I’M BAAAAAAAACK

When I first started this blog I was determined to put up something daily.

Then it became weekly . . .

Then, erm . . .

I have been a bit remiss of late. Sorry.

There have been reasons. I won’t go into the hours at work I’ve been doing, trying to ignore the coronavirus, then having to worry about the coronavirus, family commitments, life commitments, making sure I get my hours in at the gym (yes, I am a fitness obsessive) blah, blah, blahhhh.

You don’t care about any of that . . . apart from the coronavirus.

Firstly, let me sat . . . A GARDEN OF BONES IS OUTTTTTTTTT.

Yep. It’s available to buy in print and to pre-order as an ebook (out on Friday, November 20) – this far on Amazon but will be available on other platforms shortly. Principally IngramSpark, as they have the biggest ‘in’ with the library and indy bookshop market.

And it’s selling. A trickle, perhaps, but it’s only been out there for couple of days, and the majority of us independents sell most of our work digitally. Print is pretty much for those who have not been converted to the brave new world of Kindle . . . and your mum.

I’ve appeared on Hold the Front Page – a website dedicated to journalism news in the UK – and I’m going on BBC Radio Nottingham twice this week to plug it. I’m lucky. The Wycherley Murders was a very high-profile murder back in 2013, and earlier this year it was announced that Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman would be playing one of the killers in a major new TV drama.

Anyway, I’ve now got an author/book page on Amazon and I’m in the process of doing the same on Goodreads. All the essential marketing and PR stuff . . . again, I’m a journalist, so I know how it works, I know how to ‘get myself out there’.

Where I really hit a wall, and I’m putting this out there to anyone who is going through this process, or who is even thinking about putting a book out through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and the company’s Print on Demand (PoD) service . . .

Please note . . .

IT IS A F*****G NIGHTMARE.

I did everything right.

I ignored all the Amazon guidance on page shapes. They are basically aware that the majority of online readers access books through their mobile phones, so they recommend a page shape that is exactly the same shape as a mobile phone – tall and thin – which is fine for those who red your book on their iPhone, but crap if you buy it on a Kindle, or, shock-horror, prefer to turn a physical page.

I avoided their page formatting tools, their cover design templates.

PLEASE.

SERIOUSLY.

DO NOT USE THESE OPTIONS.

THEY LOOK CRAAAAAAAAP.

I hired in a cover designer and an interiors designer, and I’m so delighted that I did. Both Liam Relph and Andrew Tennant worked wonder. When my first copy landed through the letterbox the other day it looked like it could have been sent by HarperCollins.

The problem was loading the bloody thing up. And there’s nobody to help you at KDP, Nobody to get on the phone to and talk you through it. They’re currently not offering a phone service to writers in the UK. You have to email. And when you do email, you basically get an unhelpful response, basically telling you that you must have ‘f**ked up’ and to go back and work out what you’ve done wrong, according to the guidance that they haven’t really given you.

In the end, after calling my designers back in, weeping on a number of occasions and punching a table, we realised that I’d set the paper colour to white, and not cream. It makes a difference. Cream paper is thinner and by setting it to white it will mean that your cover design is out by a couple of mm – and therefore doesn’t meet KDP’s quality standards. It’s a crap system, and they don’t take any responsibility for the fact that it’s a crap system.

It’s a downside. They are an international company, and the bedrock for any independent author. But because of that, they really do not care about you or their sh**e system. If you don’t or can’t publish your book, there are plenty more in the queue.

Anyway, my book is out. Buy it please . . . on Amazon.

Getting closer . . .

Over the last few days ‘sh*t has gotten real’ as the saying goes. I now have a book cover, following a massive amount of input from friends and colleagues. There have been some tweaks and changes along the way, obviously . . . otherwise what’s the point of consulting people.

The book itself is almost ready to go – print pdfs are back and I’m just waiting on the digital versions to be returned. Over the next couple of days A Garden of Bones should also be visible to the world, after ISBNs were assigned a yesterday.

I can also reveal that the official release date for both print and ebook editions will be March 20

There is, frankly, a vast amount still to do before that date – I’m currently getting a media pack together, which I’ll be publishing on this site in the days ahead, hopefully a round of interviews with journalists and bloggers, an official launch event to put together and the ongoing marketing battle.

And that’s on top of continuing to turn up for the day job.

Hence the brevity of this post. More soon.

Typo paranoia . . .

When I first entered this circus – around about the time of the fall of Carthage – it was a different world, to put it lightly.

Firstly, it was still deemed as a remotely sensible, if a bit showbiz, means of earning a living, It never was, by the way. It always struck me as a bit intrusive – a bit like you were walking into other people’s tragedies and being offered a temporary seat at the table while they poured over their grief.

Maybe it has to feel like that though. If it didn’t feel like that then that would make me a sociopath . . . wouldn’t it?

It also involved a lot of working over weekends, working late into the evening, hoping bugger all would kick off at five to ten at night when you could finally go home,

I have become ‘battle hardened’ and that worries me. Recently there was an alleged double murder in the next village to where I live – and I have to say ‘alleged’ because the person accused of the killing had gone ‘not guilty’, and is, therefore, innocent until a jury makes a decision. Just like with Susan and Christopher Edwards.

I was at the suspect’s first magistrates’ court appearance, his first crown court appearance . . . and the whole thing will now go quiet until his trial later this year. That’s the way it is.

Speaking to people who knew the victims . . . friends or friends of my wife, I have built up a picture of what happened, the dynamics of why someone might, allegedly, kill his estranged wife and her new lover. And there is a part of me which, speaking as a hack of 20-odd years, just sees the story. You do lose the humanity . . . unless you steadfastly insist on holding onto it.

In this game accuracy is everything, and I suppose getting something wrong . . . some fact, some spelling . . . is akin to a plumber coming round to fix a leaky pipe and flooding your cellar. We take such fuck-ups very seriously, on a personal lever as much as a corporate one.

Last week, I covered a case where a solicitor named and shamed a company which had treated a young apprentice very badly. He’s been fired and punched the son of the company’s owners. Only the solicitor had given the wrong name of the company. I’m covered by court privilege – if it’s said in court, even if it’s not true, I am protected. But it still has an impact and you feel that.

You just want to get it right. You don’t want to flood the cellar.

Many years ago I had a stint as a sub editor, when sub editors still existed. It was their job to go through the copy, sort out the grammar, fix the typos, put in all the stray commas, the missing hyphens and generally make the copy ‘clean’.

They’d also check to ensure that the copy was legally sound, that it didn’t defame or otherwise interfere with any legal processes that may be taking place. There is, frankly, very little worse than being dragged before a judge and being asked to justify yourself in a contempt of court proceeding.

But there is also very little worse than spelling something wrong . . . a typo. The bane of professional writer’s life.

Rolling back 20 years, when I wrote a story, it would go to the newsdesk, which would then take it into a conference, and once approved, it would go back for ‘desking’, before it went to the subs, before it went to the night editor, who would pick up anything that had been missed . . . often literally a missing comma. So by the time it ‘hit the streets’ it was perfect.

Then they got rid of the subs and, in many cases the night editor. It became about the web and immediacy and ‘getting it right first time’ . . . a corporate shitbag in pushing the onus of accuracy onto the reporters; the company taking no ownership in removing layer after layer of scrutiny.

And that’s really how I’ve found the process of writing this book. I’ve produced a little over 80,000 words. A dear friend called Kate did my initial proofs, twice, and I thought it was there, because she’s brilliant.

Then I sent it out to other friends and they came back with more. A total of nine, I think. Handbreak, not handbrake. A few missed hyphens, a few literals. But it’s exhausting all the same. When you want something to be perfect in every way. When you don’t want someone’s lasting impression of the book it’s taken you half a decade to write to be a typo or a stray comma on page 157.

I think as writers though, we need to be paranoid about it. If we’re not then our product will suffer.

To be honest, I’ve had a busy week, I’m knackered, and I could really do with collapsing in front of the telly. Only I can’t because I need to blog, I need to get this book out. So now I’m paranoid that this post will have typos. It probably will. I’m only human. But I hope you will understand.

You can’t please everyone . . .

This is what I’ve discovered from sharing my book over on here and through various social media sites. I’m going to be honest here, when I first posted these two images a few days ago, my own firm favourite was the one on the left.

My cover design dilemma

I thought it would be a stand-out winner . . . an initially it was. Sorted, I thought. But then the other one started to grow in traction, and it grew big time. I initially thought it was a bit cheesie, for want of better word.

Perhaps being more analytical, I thought it looked a bit like every other crime novel that you see on the shelves, whether real or digital.

But people disagreed. They loved the spade. They thought it was a striking piece of imagery which got under the skin of the story like nothing else.

“If I as browsing for a book and I saw the one with the spade, that’s the one I would go for,” one friend said.

Although most of the people who commented in approval of the other one thought it looked a lot classier.

The one that I initially likes best

The snag, I have discovered, is that one looks clearly like a true crime book. The other looks like a crime novel . . . and ideally I want something that encapsulates A Garden of Bones’ uniqueness – not quite true crime, not quite fiction.

As an experiment at this stage, I’ve gone back to my designer and asked him to blend the two images. Take the spade imagery and impose it onto the other design, also getting rid of the newspaper cutting which runs along the right hand side. Keeping the ‘classy look’ but preserving that imagery that people love.

Will this work? I honestly don’t know. It could be the perfect blend . . . or it could end up being a weaker version of both designs. Time will tell.

But what all of this has brought home to me is the importance of sharing, and the importance of taking feedback on board. I did the same with the writing process, through its later stages. I sought out criticism to make the overall product as good as I could make it, and that process is still ongoing.

The one that I think will sell more copies

But ultimately, because I’ve written something I feel is unique in terms of where it sits on the fiction/non-fiction spectrum, if my cover design mash-up idea doesn’t work, I’m going to have to come down on one side of the fence or another. And because I want this to succeed, I’m going to have to go with the one that I think will attract more readers; sell more copies.

And if that ends up being the case, that will have to be the one with the spade. Sometimes it isn’t all about aesthetics. Sometimes it’s doing what you need to do to get the sales.

Because my book, just like yours, deserves to be read.

What do you think?

This is a relatively short post . . . you maybe delighted to hear. Here are the finalists for the cover design for A Garden of Bones. I have a firm favourite, but I’d love to hear your views.

One is more your traditional crime fiction front. The other seems a bit more true crime.

And it’s difficult because A Garden of Bones sits squarely in the middle of the two genres . . . not making life easy for myself am I.

Option 1

Maybe next time I will write a crime book about an alcoholic Oxford graduate detective . . . or an alcoholic Oslo detective.

For me, the stand-out thing with this one is the spade. It’s stark and almost brutal in its simplicity. But it does have an edge to it. From the outset it doesn’t seem like your average Midsomer Murders fodder. It gives the impression that something very dark and brutal has occurred.

It’s dark and almost brutal in its simplicity . . .”

Andy Done-Johnson

This one seems much more true crime. It’s stark and fairly brutal . . . it also had a documentary feel and lets the reader know from the outset that they are dealing with real events here.

Option 2

I didn’t really want Susan and Christopher Edward’s mugs on the front of it, when I was commenting on social media a few days ago, but here I think it’s so subtle that it works.

It’s over to you though. Please share your views. The more feedback I can get, the better for me and for the book.

I thank you.

ADJ

Another step closer . . .

I’m hoping that the initial artwork will be arriving over the weekend, and to be honest I’ve been incredibly vague about what I want . . . because I don’t know what I want.

I know what I don’t want.

I don’t want a shadowy detective standing in a snow-filled forest.

I don’t want photographs of Susan and Christopher Edwards . . . that would be too ‘true crime’.

“Something a bit abstract,” was all I could really come up with.

Not the sort of book cover I want

I’m working with the fabulous Liam Relph to produce my book covers, and he was an absolute find.

Apart from his artwork – check him out on Reedsy – which is diverse, he has a sense for the abstract. What sold him to me was his promise to read the book. Sounds an odd thing to say, but most of them don’t. And then he came to me with real enthusiasm and a hundred questions . . . because he was genuinely interested and enthusiastic. I’ve talked about Liam in my last post, so I won’t go on, other than to reiterate the learning curve of going it alone.

Through this process, when I finally took the decision to be in charge of my own destiny as a writer; when I decided to move away from that notion of conventional publishing, I effectively had to become a small business.

I had to become my own PR and marketing department, my own accountant, my own project manager. And one of the keys to successful small business, I have learned, is that you need to hire in expertise.

I also don’t really want her on the front

Back in my pre-independent days, I truly never gave this any thought. It would just happen, right? Well yeah, it would . . . to a greater or lesser extent. You may get consulted on covers, but you wouldn’t have the final say, or perhaps not any say at all, because now it was the publisher’s book, not yours.

Would they even ask you about typesetting? Don’t know, but I doubt it.

And then to the editing. When I had lunch with my then agent one thing he said really struck me.

He said: “Of course, this is just the start,” After I’d worked through the night to make all the final amendments he wanted to get it out ahead of some of the bigger book festivals. “Once one of them bites, they’re going to want to appoint their own editor, to pull it around until it’s the book they want.”

With hindsight, I should have said, “Fuck that,” then and there. Because all they want is Inspector Morse and Harry Hole, or any one of a handful of other templates. What works? Just keep churning it out. More of the same, more of the same. Get it in the bookshops at the airport for that extra push.

Books bought at Heathrow and abandoned in hotel rooms all over the world, or left, finished, soaking up pool water in the fading sunlight until the artwork fades.

Abandoned.

And that’s not the route I want.

I will share the initial designs when I have them.

Just a quick one . . .

I think we’re almost there. My typesetting is almost there for the innards, and I’ve had a long chat with my cover artist today, so I hope that within a month A Garden of Bones will be good to meet the world.

Andy Done Johnson

I asked a number of people to read it prior to publication and write truly honest reviews. These are all people I know professionally. But the directive was simple . . . Do not suck my d!c$. Be honest. If you hate it, please say that you hate it. You will be doing me a favour.

“It’s a book that works on many levels . . .”

Jon Smart

Anyway, here is one of them, written by a guy who grew up and still lives in the town where A Garden of Bones is set.

AND I am eternally grateful.

“With a deft pen, Andy Done-Johnson gives a first-hand account of how he broke a true crime story which was gripping, shocking and bizarre in equal measure.

It’s a book that works on many levels.

First and foremost, it gives a journalist’s perspective on what it’s like to catch the story of a lifetime, then stay one step ahead of the press pack to keep it alive.

It’s also a study into the character and psychology of the story’s main protagonists, the perpetrators of such a chilling and callous crime, and the police officers tasked with tracking them down and piecing together the jigsaw of what happened.

Finally, it tells the story of the disintegration of a former mining town that has never recovered from its main industry and employment source closing down, and the devastating impact on the unfolding investigation of ever-tightening budget cuts on a force that’s already been stripped to the bone.

An assured debut.

Jon Smart.”

I’ll be sharing the artwork soon . . . and maybe a bit more of the book.