I really don’t want to capitalise on the World Shit-Show that we’re all living through, but hey, what the f**k.
My book is out – A Garden of Bones: Blood Runs Thicker. Available in print and on Kindle. Buy a copy and have a read . . . before the Olivia Colman drama comes out. Get it from the horse’s mouth . . . how it really happened.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with recently, in terms of getting A Garden of Bones out is deciding on a cover design. The problem, I think, is that I am a creative snob.
I had two designs to consider. I loved one, although while, for me, it was more creatively fulfilling, I sort of knew the other one would work better in terms of selling copies. One looked like a true crime book, the other like a crime novel. I’ve said all of this before, so won’t go back over old ground.
I even went as far as asking for a mash-up of the two covers to see if that presented a solution. It didn’t. Everybody hated it and, in a nutshell, saw it as a weaker version (whether they were in favour of one design or another) of the cover they liked.
And I’ve got to say a massive thank you to my cover designer, Liam Relph, for his patience.
What I’ve come to realise, is that from where I’m at now, this has become a commercial over a creative process. It’s about flogging books. And while I initially preferred the other design . . . classier, referenced my involvement in the story, acknowledged me etc etc . . . that was my own ego messing with the process.
This is about the book; making sure that it attracts as many people as possible, gets as many people buying it as possible. And for that to happen, you have to take personal ego out of the equation. You have to think about the reader . . . your market, your target audience, and what will draw them in, what will make them click ‘buy’ on their Kindle or their phone.
My strategy, at present, is to offer it to Kindle on their 70 per cent exclusivity deal, and to access their services for print sales.
But the best thing about the KDP thingy, is that it only applies to e-books. They really don’t care about print copies. So you can sign up for this and get a massive 70 per cent on all digital sales, but also push it out to other providers.
So I’m going to go with IngramSpark as my second print supplier, because they supply print copies to a lot of libraries around the world, to a lot of independent bookshops; and because their print editions come out in a much higher quality that Amazon’s offering. Ultimately, if you buy a print book, you want it to sit with the rest of your book collection once you’ve finished it and not look like a cheap addition.
I’ve also resisted Amazon’s preferred manuscript shape. They’d prefer you to publish tall and thin so it works on smartphones.
Fuck that, frankly.
It’s a book, in my eyes, so it’s book-shaped.
This whole thing is running wild at the moment. I’m dealing with cover designers, I’m dealing with page designers, I’m setting up a publishing company, which I’ve called Crazy Dog Publishing (another post for another day), which is essentially for my writing, but wouldn’t rule out expanding.
I’ve forked out £170 buying ISBN numbers – block of 10 when I actually need two – although I may need more in the future.
There may be an audiobook (watch this space) and I sort of want to put out a large print version. My mother suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and is slowly losing her sight. I wanted her to b able to read it in a format that worked for her, but also saw the commercial potential in that market. Old people love a bit of crime, a bit of true crime, don’t they.
But it’s all very real now. It’ all a month away, at best. And I know I’ve got a winner. Afterall, it’s only taken half a decade to get to this point.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 . . .”
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.
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.
So, I suppose when you write a book – when you go through those months and years of endless nights hammering it out; those nights of rewriting, re-plotting and re-planning, you never actually see the thing finally getting out there.
I didn’t. For me it was all about the book . . . getting it written in the first instance, getting a second draft out that I was happy with, fine tuning, tweaking and pondering . . . and finally getting to a point where you knew you could do no more.
It had been passed around numerous people, those who had read it, those who had critiqued it, and those who had proofed it.
Then, finally, it is there. There is nothing else you can do as a writer to perfect it. It’s not perfect, because it never is; but you reach a point where you can’t bare to chance another comma to a semi-colon; where you think you’ll scream if you spot another typo after proof after proof after proof; when you can’t even contemplate whether a tense in one sentence jars with another.
You are happy.
As happy as you can be.
And you need to let it go.
Only, until about a month ago, I had only ever seen A Garden of Bones laid out on an A4 sheet. It didn’t look like a book. It looked like an essay . . . albeit a very, very long one.
It comes in just short of 84,000 words. It’s been longer and it’s been shorter. But considering that the second re-write was essentially a restart, I must have written 160,000 works of it in the past few years. And that’s on top of the, on average, 250,000 word I write each year through the day job.
But it is time to let it go, to let it be itself. I have now stepped back and allowed other expertise to take over. I can tell you from my typesetter – the exceptional Andrew Tennant – that it is 324 pages long and its shape is 12.85 x 19.84 cm. I Ignored the Kindle Direct plea to make it taller and thinner so it works better on a smart phone. Read it on a phone if you want, but, even better, buy a kindle because it feels like a book. Or even buy the book.
It will come to you in bound paper. You can break the spine and prove to those who visit your home and peruse your bookshelves while you pour them wine, that you have read it . . . along with all those others.
I’m now in my second major collaboration with A Garden of Bones. I’m working with the outstanding Liam Relph to create the artwork.
My on is a massively talented artist. Got a Grade A at A Level, currently studying an Art Foundation and plans on studying Fine Art at one of several art schools in London later this year. A lot of people said to me, ‘Why don’t you get Ollie to design it?’. And a really big part of me wanted him to. And I’m sure that whatever he created would have been wonderful.
Only I didn’t want to put it on his shoulders, and I wanted to engage someone who has experience of creating book covers that sell copies.
That’s why we do this, right? We do this to sell as many copies of our book as we can. We have, after all, spent many a long evening kicking this bastard into shape.
Writing is a solitary experience, but at some point two things happen.
You have to involve other people.
And you have to let the bugger loose and start to think about what you’re going to write next.
I’m hoping to be able to share initial artwork ideas over the next few days, and I would very much appreciate your feedback.
Hesitant footsteps on the stairs, laboured; one creak, then a pause, then another – like someone carrying a heavy load.
The shuffle of feet outside the door; a key, turning in a lock – a rasping clunk as it is pulled out.
The squeak of the handle, the hiss of wood gliding over carpet, and the sense that someone is standing behind her.
She doesn’t turn.
After all, who else is it going to be?
She has stayed all day in the tiny flat, pokier even than their former home in Dagenham. The floors squeak when you walk around and the whole floor in the living room sinks into a corner. If you happened to drop a ball on the floor it would naturally roll towards it.
She is slight – not short but slump-shouldered, which are slender and sagged.
A Garden of Bones
The attic rooms drop in the corners, bend in the walls, and have windows jutting upwards in a failed attempt to make more space, like an afterthought.
She looks out over the skyline, almost Russian in its multi-coloured and domed splendor, every now and then.
She wanders a lot. She wanders and looks at her watch. She clutches her hands, rubs them together a lot – so bad that she has to use cream to soften them – like there’s blood on them, like a bashful Lady Macbeth.
She is slight – not short but slump-shouldered, which are slender and sagged.
Her hair is grey and forgotten, like she has been cutting it herself, and she wears no make-up. She has no need.
Her clothes are dour and shabby – an old green cardigan over her shoulders, plain cream trousers and a round-necked top of an indeterminable shade of white.
She wears no jewellery.
She never has.
There is no TV, and she couldn’t understand it even if there was. They have a small radio – good enough to give them a crackly rendition of the World Service.
There is also no TV because there is no money – what little pot they had has now dwindled