Hardware, Software and Brainware

I was browsing the statistics for this site.  It’s amazing what information you can find, though I’m not sure how relevant some of it is.  For example, between the creation of Imagineer-ing, in March 2012, and the end of December, this site had a total of 651 hits.  So far, in January 2013, we’ve had a phenomenal 444 to 29th January!  This is further analysed to give an average of 2 visits per day in 2012 – but that doesn’t mean much as there’s a definite rise towards the end of the year.  Even the January 2013 average of 15 visits per day is deceptive, as the number of visits continues to rise.

The question of what software is of any real use to authors is raised by such online analytical data.  Personally, as an ex-statistician, I confess that I find some of it fascinating.  It doesn’t, however, contribute anything to writing, other than blogging.  Of more interest, perhaps, is the facilities available to authors.

Hardware

I use a desktop PC more than anything else.  I can, though, also use a netbook that is synchronised to the desktop.  The first uses Windows XP and the second uses a cut down Linux.  Apart from these, I could use my iPhone or iPod, though I find those less user friendly.  You could also use a notebook, a tablet or a laptop, if they are available to you.  Outside the realm of computers, there’s also the option of using a typewriter or even handwriting.  Your preference is exactly that – yours!  What should be noted, however, is that your manuscript (MS) must, at some time, be processed for publication.  A handwritten MS will be costly to have worked up into a typed/printed form, unless you’re willing to do it yourself.  Then, there’s the question of formatting.  From what I’ve seen, this varies surprisingly widely.  The one thing that is certain is that you will need your MS to be formatted to suit a publisher’s requirements – even if you self-publish.  You can, of course, write your MS in a word processing package on computer already formatted in the most common way.  That would certainly save some effort.  The matter of formatting is something where software can help.

Software

First and foremost, you’ll need some kind of word processing package.  Of course, many computers come with things like MS Word already installed.  If you don’t have that, then there are some excellent options that are free to download and use.  Probably the biggest, and most reliable, is OpenOffice.  A version of this is called Libre Office, but I confess I’ve found no differences between them.  Other options exist, such as AbiWord, and there are some packages specifically designed for authors, though the latter are not free software.  I, personally, would not recommend using software that produces Adobe PDF files.  I’ve experienced some annoying errors in ebooks that have been converted from PDF.

I use OpenOffice, coupled with the pay-for ebook creation package, Jutoh.  This allows me maximum freedom.  I can write on any device, with the files being shared between all devices, and then Jutoh will help me produce ebooks in a variety of common formats.  That saves me some huge headaches!  Personally, I think Jutoh is worth every penny.  These, together with various desktop eReader programs, mean that I can write, create an ebook in different formats, and check how they will look on eReaders like the Kindle, the Nook and the kobo.

Finally, I use Calibre to organise my collection of ebooks, including updating their metadata  and converting between formats where desired.

Brainware

Sound silly?  Well, perhaps it is, in a way.  What I mean, here, is the core of all writing activity.  It’s a plain fact that none of the above have any relevance if your Brainware isn’t what it needs to be.  It’s the home of creative thought, creating structures, and just plain dreaming.  If you mistreat it, you can be sure that your writing will reflect that.  I don’t say that it has to be perfect!  Some of the great writers were somewhat disturbed, mentally.  They are the “flawed geniuses” who create works of immense power and significance.  As for the majority of us, we need to place ourselves in a situation in which our Brainware can function comfortably, usually where distractions are minimised and you’re physically comfortable.  Whether you need a neat, tidy workspace or chaos, all that matters is that your Brainware will function for you.

~ Steve

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Avoiding the Rules of Writing

When we first learn about creative writing, we are confronted with a surfeit of “rules”.  We are exposed to all the dos and don’ts that have ever been dreamt up and become accepted by a majority of educationalists.  They even sound sensible, logical, at the time.  Sadly, they are also passed on without any thought as to whether they are of any real value.

Of course there are some things which should be observed, such as good grammar.  Some other rules, though, should be at least challenged, if not ignored entirely.  Of these, there is one huge one: Write what you know about.

“Write what you know about”

This rule is an enormous trap for the aspiring author!  Yes, it’s easiest to draw upon the things you are most familiar with, but is that truly creative?  I would suggest not.  It’s fair enough to draw on your experiences but they are, in simple fact, limited.  If you start your life as a writer in, say, your teens, you don’t usually have a vast experience of life.  So you have to seriously consider severely amending this rule, or abandoning it entirely.  If you wish to write fiction, chances are you’ll need to research some things, to expand on the knowledge you bring to your tale.  For example, a crime novel may involve something you are extremely unlikely to have any knowledge of.  If you plunge into heroic fantasy, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have much knowledge of swords and sorcery.

It has to be true that if you only write what you know about, all you’ll end up with is a series of memoirs.  You have to expand beyond your knowledge.  It’s one of the truly fantastic aspects of being an author, the fact that you will be forever learning new things!  Obeying this rule would damage your increasing knowledge.  I suspect that writers learn more every year than folk in any other sphere of activity.

Don’t be constrained by arbitrary rules

Ultimately, you will be judged by your writings.  You won’t be judged, by the average reader, on whether or not you have obeyed some rules and ignored others.  It is the quality and uniqueness of your work that matters, above all else!  The reader doesn’t know whether you are a lawyer or a vagrant, nor do they care.  All they care about is whether you have produced something they can enjoy reading.  It needs to show some understanding of the subject matter, of course, but that’s what research is for.  It can be thought provoking or hilariously funny, it can be a thrilling roller coaster ride or a scorching romance.  All that matters is that it is satisfying!

The structure of writing

I’ve seen situations where people who have a natural gift for story-telling become fettered by being obedient to rules.  Perhaps it’s better to tell a great story badly than not all.  Sadly, one area that they get fouled up in isn’t even that involving “the rules” – it’s trying to be true to structural theory!  They obediently adhere to preparing their story, fitting it into a structural outline, regardless of all else.  They have missed the idea entirely!  The idea of structured writing is to provide guidelines for yourself.  You don’t have to adhere to any system that doesn’t actually suit you.  If careful planning, plot outlining, word-sketching, and all such things, work for you, that’s fair enough.  If you can only tell your story by writing freely, without all the extra work to worry about, then go for it!  If you feel that the finished article needs some extra polishing, or rearrangement, then that’s the time to go back over it.  You’re very unlikely to ever write something that you will let stand without at least some editing.

Don’t crush your creativity under unnecessary burdens!

~ Steve

Deeper Meanings — Cover art from the Double Helix : Post by Jade Kerrion

Today, I’d like to talk about the meaning behind the cover art of the award-winning Double Helix series. First, let me give you a bit of background for context. The Genetic Revolution has transformed our world, and humans live alongside clones, in vitros, and mutants. An uneasy peace exists between the politically powerful humans and the genetically superior human derivatives, but that peace shatters when Zara Itani, a human mercenary whose attitude exceeds her beauty, frees Galahad, the perfect, lab-created human being, from his laboratory prison.

Danyael Sabre, an alpha empath, survived a traumatic childhood and now wants nothing more than to be left alone. Galahad’s escape, however, plunges Danyael’s life into a free fall when Danyael learns that his genetic code was used as Galahad’s physical template.

What would you do if you came face-to-face with perfection, and it looked just like you? Danyael will spend the rest of his life struggling to find the answer to that question. Zara’s dilemma, though, is quite different. How do you choose between the pinnacle of human perfection and his equally compelling, though flawed, physical template?

The first three books of the Double Helix series, Perfection Unleashed, Perfect Betrayal, and Perfect Weapon, trace the events around Galahad’s escape and its tumultuous aftermath for Danyael.

Double Helix Covers

The concept for the cover of Perfection Unleashed came from Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam, where God reaches down to activate the spark of life in Adam. The hand in the cover of Perfection Unleashed comes directly from the fresco, but instead of connecting with a human, it touches a sparkling vial of DNA, the innocuous origins of Galahad, the perfect human being.

I took a chance with the cover of Perfection Unleashed. Its religious origins may result in some readers drawing erroneous conclusions as to its contents. The topic of genetic engineering and its potential ability to alter human beings has religious implications, but the Double Helix series focuses instead on the societal and personal impact on people living through those tumultuous times.

In Perfect Betrayal, the spotlight shifts to Danyael Sabre. Danyael, an alpha empath, is rare and coveted, and Galahad’s escape provides an impetus for powerful men and women to seize Danyael for their opposing ends.

Perfect Betrayal is the flashiest cover in the Double Helix series thus far. It is even more abstract than Perfection Unleashed and features curved and concentric rows of dominoes arranged in a yin-yang pattern. The yin-yang symbolizes the interdependence of seemingly contrary forces, and the cover emphasizes the duality of the forces at play; light, dark; male, female; fire, ice. Two hands—one male, the other female (representing the two contenders for Danyael’s empathic power)—are poised to push at the dominoes from either end. The dominoes will fall; the question is, will Danyael?

Finally, in Perfect Weapon, the cover shifts from the abstract to the concrete. Weapons abound; first and most obviously, the sniper rifle and person behind the scope of the sniper rifle. Too large to miss are the inhuman forms of the genetically altered super soldiers clustered in front of the Capitol. The scope of the sniper rifle, however, is focused on a lone and seemingly harmless cripple, Danyael Sabre.

Who is the perfect weapon; the remorseless mercenary Zara Itani whose finger tightens on the trigger; the super soldiers that are genetically bred for war, or Danyael Sabre, the alpha empath who can, with a touch, heal or kill?

I had a great deal of fun designing the covers for the Double Helix series, and am eternally grateful to my cover artist, Jason Alexander, who put up with all my bad artistic advice with good grace, and more than compensated for the fact that I failed art in eighth grade. I hope you enjoyed this quick insight into the meaning behind the cover art, and that you’ll also enjoy reading the novels as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Author Bio:

Jade Kerrion

Jade Kerrion unites cutting-edge science and bioethics with fast-paced action in her award-winning Double Helix series. Drawing rave reviews for its originality and vision, and described as “a breakout piece of science fiction,” Perfection Unleashed, and its sequels, Perfect Betrayal and Perfect Weapon, are available in print and e-book through Amazon and other major retailers.

About The Double Helix series:

His genetic code sourced from the best that humanity offers, Galahad embodies the pinnacle of perfection. When Zara Itani, a mercenary whose abrasive arrogance exceeds her beauty, frees him from his laboratory prison, she offers him the chance to claim everything that had ever been denied him, beginning with his humanity.

Perfection cannot be unleashed without repercussions, and Galahad’s freedom shatters Danyael Sabre’s life.

An alpha empath, Danyael is rare and coveted, even among the alpha mutants who dominate the Genetic Revolution. He wields the power to heal or kill with a touch, but craves only privacy and solitude—both impossible dreams for the man who was used as Galahad’s physical template.

Galahad and Danyael, two men, one face. One man seeks to embrace destiny, and the other to escape it.

The award-winning Double Helix series, consisting of Perfection Unleashed, Perfect Betrayal, and Perfect Weapon, will challenge your notions of perfection and humanity, and lead you in a celebration of courage and compassion. Science fiction, urban fantasy, and action-adventure readers will enjoy this thrilling roller-coaster ride as it twists and turns through a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution.

Social media and buy links:

Connect with Jade Kerrion: Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Perfection Unleashed: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords
Perfect Betrayal: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords
Perfect Weapon: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords


Note:  Perfection Unleashed is on sale for just $0.99 until 31st March, 2013!

Location, Location, Location.

Location is, of course, an essential element in any scene.  The nature of the location, and the frequency with which it may appear, governs how the location should be described.  The depth, the detail, invested in providing a description of any location must be carefully gauged.  It’s necessary to let the reader know what a place is like, but it may also pay to leave some blanks, to let the reader conjure up a vision that will be uniquely their own.

There are times when descriptive passages can be very detailed.  This is especially true when the scene is beyond any possibility of familiarity.  Alien or fantasy worlds are a case in point.  There’s a need, in such cases, to create a sense of wonder.  It’s where you can really go wild.  You have the opportunity to exercise your imagination in a way that can seldom be found elsewhere.  Of course, you do have to be sensible, too.  Your world must have its own logic.  You can’t, for example, have an active volcanic region without clouds of dust spreading far and wide.  You can’t have scorchingly hot deserts beside polar ice caps.

The tone of your location descriptions will also impact on the atmosphere of any scenes.  Sultry heat will suggest a lethargy about the inhabitants.  Cold, wet landscapes with frequent overcast skies and rainfall will tend to be depressive.  Bright sun over verdant lands will hint at happy, well fed people.  Cityscapes tend to lend a hard edge to the denizens.  Landscapes and their natural climates are mood modifiers.

When you’ve written a location description, pause.  Go back to it at some point and read it.  Does it truly set the scene?  Can you gain a glimpse of that place?  If it’s a real place that you know well, can you genuinely recognise it from your description?  If you’ve done the job properly, the answers will be yes.  If not, don’t be afraid to edit it, until you’re satisfied.  A poor, or lazy, location description is as damaging as stilted, cliché-ridden dialogue!  It really is worth investing effort in this element.

Personally, when I’m writing about an important location, I try my hardest to actually imagine myself there.  I make every effort to feel the place.  I find that I can afford to lose myself in the place completely.  If I end up with a description that’s too lengthy, it can always be reduced.  Failing to imagine enough detail makes expansion difficult, to say the least.

Be bold.  Dare to create accurate descriptions that make the world real!  Even short stories deserve a measure of well crafted location setting.

Well, I hope I’ve given you food for thought.

~ Steve

Very Inspiring Bloggers Award

very-inspirational-blogger

Very Inspiring Bloggers Award

Loaded up this morning to discover that I was nominated for “The Very Inspiring Blogger Award” on Saturday by fellow blogger Angela of Angela’s World of Writing!  Thanks enormously Angela for this award.

According to the rules of the award, I’m now responding.

Rules

1)   Display the award logo,

2)   Link back to the person who nominated you,

3)   State 7 things about yourself,

4)   Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.

7 Things

Thinking of seven things that you may not know about me isn’t too easy.  I mean, there’s tons but remembering what I may have divulged is not so simple.

1)  I have eclectic tastes in just about everything.  That’s always been true as far as music is concerned but has grown over the years in my reading tastes.

2)  I am an insomniac, and have been since my early teens.  That doesn’t help with creativity, unfortunately, as I’m often verging on total exhaustion.

3)  Jenny and I will have been married for 33 years at the end of June this year!  We have two sons and a daughter, two grandsons and three granddaughters, plus step-grandchildren.

4)  I am disabled, with post polio syndrome, with very limited mobility.  I contracted polio when I was 4 years old.

5)  Writing has been my ambition since my early teens, with jobs being taken, initially, just to cover until success arrived – I’m still waiting for my big break!  LOL!

6)  My eldest brother also showed an artistic bent, being an accomplished amateur dramatics actor.

7)  I have a deep love of Nature, thanks to my Dad, who opened my eyes to all  the wonders as a child.

Nominees (In no particular order)

  1. Patti Roberts – Paradox : The Angels Are Here One of the best indie author blogs, with interviews, reviews and more.
  2. Book Blogger Directory  A useful directory of book blogs.
  3. Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!  “A Discussion of Writing For Those Who Have Spent Their Lives Writing”.
  4. Self-Publish 101  Fairly self-explanatory!
  5. Sethsnap  A gorgeous photoblog.
  6. Self Publishing Made Easy  Help for the self-publisher.
  7. Inspiring A World Of Listeners  ebook publishing articles.
  8. Cristian Mihai  A leading light’s blog.
  9. dribblingpensioner  A fun blog by a pensioner.
  10. brianwfoster.com  Tips, reviews and critiques in fiction writing.
  11. Wordplay  “Helping writers become authors”.
  12. Uncle Book  Book reviews, interviews and book promotions.
  13. Children’s Books For Life  The Steve Costello author Blog.
  14. Publishing… And Other Forms Of Insanity  The trials and tribulations of publishing.
  15. To Win The Lottery Of Words  Writing blog.

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

~ Steve

Progress of a Writer

Well, I can only hope that I’m making some progress!  Getting your ebooks out there is one thing – getting some interest is another matter.  It is a shame that so few people who download ebooks are willing to provide some feedback on them.  I have to wonder how many such ebooks are ever actually read.  I’ve certainly had a respectable number of my own ebooks downloaded.  In fact, To Sail The Dark Sea has been downloaded more than 100 times from Smashwords alone.  And In Night’s Shadows isn’t far behind.

This blog is also gaining more and more followers, which is great.  Of course, it would be nice to gain even more but that takes time, of course.  As a matter of interest, if all those who follow me on Twitter followed this blog, that would be over 800 straight away.  Of course, there are complications as to how many followers the blog has.  Followers who also have WordPress.com blogs can follow simply by clicking on a link.  It’s safe to assume that they are counted.  I have to also assume that anybody who signs up to follow by email is counted too.  The truth is, however, I’m not altogether sure how many followers the blog really has!

As you can see from the sidebar, my presence, and that of Imagineer, is spread quite widely across various sites, especially the major social networks.  This is all essential.  Getting noticed is vital.  With traditional books, authors have the advantage of being able to do things like book signings, appearances on TV/radio or at other special events.  All wonderful publicity.  I also suspect that newspapers and magazines are more receptive to traditionally published authors.  Getting ebooks noticed is a far tougher proposition.  It crossed my mind that getting my ebooks onto Amazon would help, but from what I’ve seen, that’s not true.  If you have never done so – take a look at just how many pages of free ebooks Amazon lists!

For now, I’ll plod on in the way I’ve been going.  With a zero budget, there really isn’t any alternative.  There’s progress, and I can only hope that it will continue, and maybe even increase.  It would help, of course, if every reader were to share, either the blog posts or the links to my ebooks.

~ Steve

Audiobooks

In my last post, I talked about video as a promotional tool.  I mentioned, then, that I dislike the sound of my own recorded voice.  Now, we’ve all seen the bombardment advertising by Amazon for their Audible audiobook service.  It’s an area that I would, in fact, love to utilise, but I still have the same problem.

Audiobooks open up the world of literature to those who can’t read due to visual impairment.  Why Amazon insists on advertising only on the principle of it being convenient to perfectly sighted people, I’ll never understand!  Now, I would be very pleased to offer my ebooks in audio format too, but using computer generated “voices” is very unsatisfactory.  Of course, I could invest in more natural sounding voices for the text-to-speech systems, but it’s an expense I can’t afford.  The same applies to hiring somebody to read the stories for me – it’s just not something I can afford to do.

I’ve listened to a few Project Gutenberg audiobooks, where the “reader” is a computer generated voice and I have to say that they really don’t work for me.  Equally, I’ve found some that are actually read by real people where I simply don’t like the sound of their voices.  I don’t wish to be harsh, but some folk have that kind of voice.  I strongly suspect that I would be one of them!  I applaud their efforts, providing audiobooks that might never be produced otherwise, but as a reader-listener, I can only be honest about whether I would listen to the works they’ve worked so hard on.

I’m wondering, now, whether I’m thinking too narrowly.  I can’t possibly know whether those who are visually impaired are willing to accept anything rather than nothing.  I have the option to read books for myself.  I’m not dependent on others to allow me to enjoy the vast world of literature.  A visually impaired person may well be so desperate that they can tolerate even the soulless voice of a computer.  How, after all, can I discover the reality?  I know only two people with sight problems, and I seriously doubt that either would be keen on audiobooks, so that means I have nobody to guide me in my decision making.

If any of you have experience in this area, I would love to hear from you!

~ Steve

Using Video To Promote Your Books

I’ve been looking at the number of authors whose work is now being promoted by using video trailers.  A few (very few) appear in ad’ breaks on TV but most are online.  Some are very polished with high production values – and probably cost a considerable amount of money.  Some are, I can’t say it any other way – cheesy!  They might look professional but I’ve found myself even less inclined to read the books than before seeing the trailer!  So, the question is: are video trailers really worthwhile?

I’ll admit to throwing together a very short video.  It contains no sound or moving images – it’s basically just a slide show.  No big deal, and I certainly expected nothing from it when I uploaded it to YouTube.  I wasn’t disappointed.  So, I started thinking: should I have included snippets from the books?  Maybe animating them.  The important thing to remember is that I can’t afford to pay for a professional ad’.  Another complication is that I don’t like being on camera and I dislike hearing my recorded voice, so making a personal presentation i definitely out.  Working on a shoestring, and unable to invest in getting permission to use music tracks, is it even worthwhile thinking about promotional videos?

As things stand, and circumstances are very unlikely to change, I can’t help feeling that there is the risk of making a bad mistake by pursuing the video idea.  I feel that it wouldn’t reflect well on either myself or my work.  And, at the end of the day, I’m an author, not a video producer!

I can only conclude that promotional videos are fine if you can afford them, but the majority of us really needn’t worry about jumping in and regretting it.  Naturally, I’d be happy top hear from anybody who has more experience in this area…

~ Steve

The Author and Social Networking

There are two aspects to social networking, for authors.  First, there’s networking with other authors.  Second, there’s interacting with readers.  Of course, there is a third – personal networking with friends and family, but that doesn’t really need discussing here.

There’s a growing number of ways in which authors can network with each other.  There are the obvious ones, of Facebook and Twitter, but there are now many other sites offering authors the opportunity to interact with people who appreciate the many aspects of writing, getting published and getting readers.  I could list them, but that would make for a very uninteresting post.  Some of the sites offering the service are better than others, and the nature of such sites varies.  You may just want to know you’re not alone, and maybe ask a question now and then about some ticklish problem.  Then again, you may want a more active relationship, with critiques of your work taking a prominent place.  I’ll confess to preferring the former.  That’s mainly because I simply don’t have time to get so deeply involved.

Networking with readers is another matter.  It usually starts with some simple means of getting feedback, progressing to things like Facebook pages and even forums.  There’s an inherent danger, of course.  Readers are entirely unpredictable!  They may love some of your work but hate other pieces.  The clearest advice is not what many readers would like: don’t get involved!  Basically, this states that it is bad practice – unprofessional even – to get involved in reacting to the stated opinions of your readers!  Essentially, the author’s side of the relationship should very seldom exceed posting announcements or thanking their readers for their support.  You have to let anything negative simply wash over you, without comment.

This may make it sound like we must make clear divisions between fellow authors and readers.  In actual fact, most of the successful sites provide a way for authors and readers to interact in one place.  In most such cases, the authors do have ways to interact privately, but not always.  Sites such as Goodreads and Book Blogs are very much involved in covering the whole of networking.

There is one thing every author must accept before they ever put any kind of book out there, digital or physical: you will be exposed to opinions that you don’t like or agree with.  You are likely to actually be targeted by sad folk who intend nothing but making verbal attacks on you.  And if you run your own blog or web site, there are the hackers and Spammers to contend with.  The internet, for all the good it can do, can be a harsh environment.  If you are thin skinned, you’re unlikely to enjoy yourself for very long.

Ultimately, whether you get involved in networking is your choice.  But, remember that you really do need the free advertising that such networking offers.  You need to get yourself known.  Plus, most people now expect to find that their favourite authors have some kind of interactive presence on the internet.  My best advice?  Start small!  Create a Facebook page, either for yourself as an author (the best option) or for each of your books (a lot of work!).  Expand slowly into other sites.

Good luck.

~ Steve

Sources for eBooks by Steve

It’s about time that we updated the information about where you can obtain Steve’s eBooks from.  The best place to get them from is Smashwords, and its numerous affiliated sites, where the maximum number of formats is available.  All other sources have restrictions on the formats they offer!

The current list is:

Other sources will become available over time and we will endeavour to keep you informed of these changes as they happen.  You can, of course, also locate sources using search engines.