Don’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover – Even though we all do

17nc0rmlk0dcejpg.jpgThe old adage takes on a more literal message in the world of books. We may tell people not to judge a book by its cover but we all do it and there’s a good reason for that. More people choose to pick up a book based on its cover design. And this industry is only growing with the rise in self-publishing, indie print houses and e-books.

The book industry is a never ending one. Formats may change from print to digital but the cover remains. Most books are bought via browsing (either online or in a book store) and this means that covers become one of the most important factors in selling a book. Even a bad book can have an intriguing cover. Trends in covers come and go but the attraction of a good cover be it for design or familiarity is still a big driving factor.

Why is a good cover so important?

A recent online survey by thebooksmuggler.com revealed that when asked, readers responded to the question ‘Do covers play a decisive role in your decision to purchase a book?’ 79% of respondents said yes.  And according to the Self Publishing Advisor statistics show that ‘the average person will decide to buy your book within 8 seconds of seeing your cover’.

 Current Cover trends

In the New Yorker article by Tim Kreider he says ‘the covers of most contemporary books all look disturbingly the same, as if inbred’. This statement rings true in most mass market books. It seems publishing houses are relying on a sense of familiarity to create covers.

The rise of John Green’s novels have created a plethora of ‘handwritten’ text on super simple background style covers throughout the YA market. This simple approach to recreating a personal feel through fonts designed to look like the scrawled handwriting of the angst-ridden teen protagonists seems to work. Green’s books are best sellers and other writers are getting their work picked up for these covers.

The popularity of paranormal romance both for adults and YA have also created the trend of red and white images and text on a black cover trend. This is most apparent in the Twilight novels; many readers did pick it up because of the cover of white and red on black. The stark contrasts of these colours draw the eye. This theme can be seen repeated in many books in this genre.

twilightsagabooksSymbolism based covers are also very popular. A single striking image or symbol being the only image has become popular with the Game of Thrones and Hunger Games covers. This also stretches to other genres such as action adventure and crime.

The lone figure cover is slowly working its way back into the fiction area. Be it a man with a gun or a woman in a cloak, this trend did die down but has begun to lay claims in cover design again.

However, with the rise in independent publishing houses and self-publishing, this trend is being bucked. With authors having more control over aspects of their designs, more freedom to hire a cover designer that matches the aesthetic they want for their books, the styles are starting to expand. We are seeing a return to customised artwork both digital and traditional being used and the ability to twist old clichés into modern pieces that stand out from the cookie cutter covers of mainstream publishing.

In the world of nonfiction covers still follow this same trend in mainstream publishing. Plain white covers with simple text and maybe one small, hand drawn image is commonplace or alternatively full photo covers. This trend has been around for quite a while now and for the nonfiction world this will probably remain the same for some times to come.

In the independent world, most nonfiction book covers follow this same formula but this is where we find the subpar covers of people attempting to publish their own works and make their own covers.

Problems in cover design when following trends is that due to the heavy use of stock images (in both traditional and indie publishing) is that without significant artistic reworking we are starting to see similar images showing up on several covers. Without moving from the current trends, and without the use of cover designers willing to artistically render original pieces using said stock images, we run the risk of a market flooded with carbon copy covers.

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 What are the skillsets for cover designers of the future?

For future cover designers to keep pace with industry trends, a combination of artistic and technical skills will be critical. Digital art and photography are two skills at the forefront as to capture the perfect cover, stock images just may not be available, but also a return to traditional art methods could be on the cards. The more versatile a cover designer is the more work they will be able to do as trends change.

A good eye for colour is also important with foundations in traditional art and colour theory. This coupled with having a broad knowledge of what is out there in the industry is going to cement a designer in the cover design world.

Graphic Design and Art classes are a great foundation for the theory and technical aspects of the skillset required, but prior skills in art do certainly broaden the scope of work a person can do.

 The world of cover design is an unmapped piece of territory. With such a broad range of genres available to design for, the future is bright with ideas. For major publishing houses it will most likely depend on what the next best seller is in any given genre. Although with the current trends unlikely to fade quickly we will most likely see more John Green’s and more Twilight’s in the near future.

In the indie and self publishing world we are seeing major changes as more writers are using high concept designs and quality cover designers. This is raising the standard and we are now seeing resurgence in original art and digital imaging being used to create covers that are more specific to the books they are for than the mass market, ‘inbred’ covers of the major publishing houses.

For nonfiction I honestly hope that cover designers will be able to step up in the independent field. The times of homemade covers that look unprofessional needs to end for the self published world to be improved. These ‘homemade’ covers are quite common among the self published nonfiction world as many people are beginning to publish their life stories or self-help manuals on platforms without any form of quality control. I believe that nonfiction covers will mostly stay the same, either very stark covers of text and a small image or the full page colour image we see most commonly on memoirs and cookbooks.

As for the major publishing houses, I can’t see too many changes in the near future although more graphic based covers would be a nice change from the black on white covers and photo montages of late. We are slowly seeing a return to these styles of covers with a feature image dominating the cover, overlaid with text. More colour is being used as well which is a nice change from the tri-colour fare of late. This trend will also open up the cover design market to more artistic cover artists, both digital and traditional styles.

 So should we judge a book by its cover? No but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. We go looking for something that catches our eye and if we believe the major publishing houses we strive to find the familiar. However these trends, as all trends do, will change. A slow but inevitable change and we merely need to wait for the next big thing to tell us where the mimicry will lead. The exciting changes though are in the independent published books and their new faces in the cover design world. It’s definitely a space to watch in the design world for originality.

-By Sabrina Gidley

 

 

 

Author Intro – M A Clarke

Name: Melissa Lord aka M. A. ClarkeImage

Age: 30+

Books published: The Riders’ War – Battle For Today

Books coming soon: The Riders’ War Part 2 – Battle For Tomorrow

Top three authors: Patricia Briggs, Christopher Pike, Anne MacCaffrey

Favourite Colour: red

Favourite animal: dragon

Favourite quote: ‘But why’s the rum gone?’

Top three movies: Sound of Music, While You Were Sleeping, Classic Star Wars Trilogy

Favourite reading genre: fantasy

Favourite Tv show: Doctor Who

If you could be any fictional character, who would you be: there’s a lot to be said for Molly Weasley. She doesn’t live her life in mortal peril (unless you count Fred and George), but deep down she’s as strong and courageous as any hero.

Describe yourself in 30 words or less: an emotionally irregular geek girl, with a consuming crush on a Timelord who has somehow managed to produce a book and a family

Do you have a burning question for Mel? Reply here or visit us at facebook or twitter @ouroborusbooks

Author Intro – Mitchell Tierney

So we thought it was time you got to know us writers. This week we start with our most prolific blogger Mitchell.

ImageName: Mitchell Tierney

Age: 34

Books published: Everdark Realms Book I

Books coming soon: Everdark Realms Book II, Book III. Heather Cassidy and the Magnificent Mr Harlow, The Devil Lives Beyond the Wall.

Top three authors: Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Joseph Delaney equal for third place)

Favourite colour: red

Favourite animal: Cats or Three Toed Sloths

Favourite quote: ‘We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.’ Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Top three movies (or movie series): Fight Club, Shawshank Redemption and Star Wars

Favourite reading genre: Weird fiction, non-fiction,fantasy

Favourite TV show: Sons of Anarchy, Amazing Race, Breaking Bad

If you could be any fictional character who would it be: Tyler Durden

Describe yourself in 30 words or less: Addicted to writing. Motivation to succeed in the publishing world. Driven to become a better writer. Always learning and setting myself goals. I have a red beard and glasses.

Do you have a burning question for Mitchell? Reply here or visit us at facebook or twitter @ouroborusbooks

Published in: on January 18, 2014 at 12:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Everdark Realms: The Awakening – Sneak Peek

 

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Saboo flew through the air. He tumbled and somersaulted, head over tail. The wind slapped against his face, burning his skin and ripping out his hair. He closed his eyes tightly as he fell, his arms waving around recklessly. The Calavera’s hand snatched him from his freefall, jerking him from side to side. Its morbid eyes glowed in the darkened sky. Saboo was dropped again, the air tore past him, coursing up his arms and tearing his clothes. He was swiftly caught once more, this time by a different Calavera. It flipped him around and tore at his backpack. Its grotesque hand reached inside, blindly grabbing at something. It pulled its hand out, dropping the pack. Saboo watched it fall away and disappear in the flurry of tree tops. Saboo tried desperately to punch at witch as they wrestled in the air, but its hands were too quick. He was now being held by the neck. He squirmed to get free but the Calavera’s grip was too strong. Saboo gargled, managing to get a few words out.

‘Let…me…go!’ he choked, his face going blue. The witch’s octopus-like legs wrapped around his body and squeezed him tight. Saboo could feel the remarkable pressure they housed. The Calavera’s gold chains clanked against its chest, its yellow, round earrings glimmered and reflected the moon’s glare. Saboo tried to push it away, his fest hitting the witch, its body as hard as steel. The Calaveras took turns carrying him. They tossed him to one another, recklessly throwing him high into the air and catching him like a play-toy. The speed they achieved was inconceivable; Saboo’s ears were pushed flat against his head, his tail streamed out behind his body. Saboo was panicking, he didn’t know where they were taking him, and he had lost all bearings of his surroundings. One moment he was standing on the stage in the Monkish City, the next thing he was being taken by the Calavera witches. He had seen the comet descend and everything had illuminated in all its glory.

Saboo looked up at the witch and saw the malevolence in their face, and knew they were going to kill him. He thrashed about, but its grip got tighter, almost cutting off his airway completely. Saboo reached up, his lungs restricting, and snatched Calavera’s necklace. He pulled down on it hard, breaking it in half. The Calavera screeched, falling from the sky, as they swan-dived towards the ground at a remarkable velocity. Then, as Saboo started to lose consciousness, he noticed it was holding the Mask of Ebb in its free hand. The tusks jutted out, carved with alarming detail; the small inscriptions glowing and radiating before him.

Saboo reached for it, his finger tips caressing the mask.

The witch screamed, sending its morbid howl out over the lands of Amitav. Suddenly he gathered its strength, after losing one of its neck pieces and flew in a quick arc, away from the ground.

They flew higher and higher. The other witches started circling them. The Calavera holding him, brought the mask up over his head, its laughter was frantic and supernatural. With one quick strike, the Calavera slammed the mask onto Saboo’s face. It burnt like nothing Saboo had ever felt before in his entire life; even when the Lepordconda bit the end of his tail off, this felt a million times worse. The wood seared to his flesh, burning the hairs around his face. Saboo screamed in pain. He could feel his hair being singed, and he could smell it. The Calavera felt the mask give off a sonic wave of energy and it screamed in terror, dropping Saboo. He fell from the hovering creatures, desperately trying to pull the mask off his face. It was searing. He could hear his skin moulding to the wood. The tusks felt alive, as if it had become part of his face now. His eyes were fused shut.

Saboo was dropping like a stone from the sky. The Calaveras watched him fall, their long tentacles wavering in the clouds around them. They stared with grotesque eyes, waiting for him to hit the ground. Saboo tried frantically to tear the mask from his face, his fingers gripped the sides and he pulled and pulled. His ears rung out loud and his hair was being pulled by the friction. Then, his eyes shot open, he could see normally out of the mask, its wooden jaw moved and he was able to scream for the first time since it was scorched onto his face. It was a gut-wrenching howl of pain. The ground was coming up faster and faster, he looked down and his heart sunk low into his stomach. He wasn’t about to fall upon the hard ground, instead, he was about to land in water.

PRAY FOR VILLIANS

ImageOver the last few weeks I’ve received two batman comics in the mail; one was Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and the other was Batman: Cacophony by Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan. Now, I’ve never been a huge Batman fan, but I was more interested in who wrote these titles than the Dark Knight himself. Alan Moore and Kevin Smith both wrote about the Joker. Although both their ‘Jokers’ had similar qualities, they were written differently. It got me thinking, out of all the villains they could have chosen to write about, why Joker? They could have picked Penguin or Riddler or Poison Ivy or whoever, but both these writers chose the same villain. Why?

ImageLuke Skywalker has Darth Vader, Harry Potter has Voldermort, Optimus Prime has Megatron. With heroes that live up to a high caliber, they have to have an equal and opposite opponent. Penguin is short and can’t really go one on one with Batman by himself. Riddler has riddles? (and not much else). Mr. Freeze has his equipment etc. But the Joker has something the rest really don’t have. He wasn’t born disfigured, but he doesn’t look quite normal. He doesn’t have gadgets or cars or planes. He has the Charles Manson quality that these writers want to write about; an ultimate villain, a completely twisted and deranged psychopath.

Without a major villain, who would Batman fight? Street gangs, shop lifters, muggers. All of these enemies are faceless and pointless. You don’t need a bat-cave and bat-mobile and bat-copter and gadgets to beat off some junkies snatching a handbag. In order to justify a lot of heroes you need the rival to be beyond the normal street crook. All these faceless enemies are used as fodder. Take the Stromtroopers or the Foot Soldiers, they have no character, no back story, nothing. They can be thrown into the meat grinder and no one cares.

With Luke Skywalker, the rebel alliance was created to rise up against the Empire. It makes you want to cheer for the underdog, especially when the villain is a military-type, nazi-esque brigade with countless soldiers and weaponry. The Rebels are dressed almost haphazardly, with no distinct familiarity or recognizable figure head. Now the Empire on the other hand has Darth Vader, who is very recognizable. He’s tall and solid with large shoulders and points a lot. He seems to not even care about his own men, choking one at the table in New Hope. With Vader, the whole idea of the Rebels winning is so farfetched that you believe it’s nearly impossible. If you look at all the Star Wars toys and games and posters, they all have Darth Vader on them, either his whole mask, or full body. He’s recognizable and you’re instantly attracted to walk over and check it out because he’s the ultimate villain.

In The Killing Joke by Allan Moore, Joker broke out of Arkham Asylum and shot Chief Gordon’s daughter (Bat-girl) and put her in a wheelchair. Moore wrote the Joker as a Manson type leader with a band of merry, deformed, individuals that did his bidding. Joker was written as someone pushed to the brink of lunacy that never really came back from it. He wasn’t Batman’s equal in physical strength or mentality, but was so insane that it brought him up higher in the scale of opponents. Joker didn’t care about the law or human life one iota. His clown makeup really drove home the point of his state of mind.

When I write, I try to invent a great villain. Someone who is above the hero, so the hero becomes the underdog. It’s important to show how strong the villain can be, and also to show the hero’s limitations, this way, we, as readers, can compare the two. Who ever thought a moisture-farm boy, who wasn’t even allowed to go see his friends because of his chores to do, would take on a great sith lord, and win?

Heroes and Villains should balance like yin and yang. But Villains rarely get any victory. We don’t hear of villains winning. This may be deliberate to introduce this to children, to let them know the good guys always come out on top, but in the real world…it may be a different story. Maybe that’s why we can’t stand by and let awful things happen, because we can see when a savior is needed. I wrote a short story once, a long time ago (and I’ve forgotten the name) where an old hero is wandering the streets with his Imagecape and boots on, looking for crime. A van pulls up and it’s the old age home coming to get him because he escaped. They tell him that he fought all the crime, and there were no more villains. He’s rejected from society now because he did his job, now everyone lives in peace and no one cares about him. Heroes exist because of villains, and villains exist because of heroes.

Mitchell Tierney

*please note this blog was written before the Aurora Dark Knight Rises shooting. Ouroborus Book Services and all of its writers wish to send our deepest sympathies to those affected.

Think Tank

ImageI normally have a few writing projects on the go at once. As you’ve may have read in my previous blogs I have a book I’ve been working on for about four years, which I have no intent on really ever finishing, but I do get the motivation from time to time to work on it. I have about two or three books that need editing and rewrites and I have to try and submit a blog every two weeks. This is on top of little things I write down as they come to me, normally ideas for short stories to write later or plot twists for books I’m yet to write. But lately, I’ve been busy. I haven’t had time to sit down and write or get up Saturday morning with a coffee and write a blog. I’ve been running around doing things that have a higher priority than writing.

ImageLast night I sat down to write a blog and didn’t have any ideas. I brain stormed for about half an hour and couldn’t come up with one thing. I thought ‘do I have writers block?’ I’ve never had it before and didn’t think I ever would. But what I released was I’d fallen into the trap I had known about since I started writing and Chuck Palahniuk put it best when he wrote ‘You don’t sit on the toilet if you don’t need to shit.’ I was sitting at the computer, with nothing to write, trying to force myself to write, and it just wasn’t happening. In the past, if I didn’t feel like writing, I would edit. If I didn’t feel like editing, I would write a short story, or not write at all. Usual my writing ‘tank’ is full by the weekend and I have enough fuel to just sit down, at any time, and write until it runs dry. With work and other commitments I hadn’t been able to fill this tank, so I was running on empty.

Sometimes it’s hard to switch on the motivation. When I’ve worked on books in the past, and known I had to finish them, it was hard to force myself to sit in the chair and write. I had figured out a trick though. If you don’t feel like writing, reread the last two or three pages you wrote and I almost guarantee that you get instantly motivated. Your brain is transferred back to that point, exactly where you left off and you’ll soon be typing away. That’s why I like to start new books only after my tank is overflowing with motivation and ideas, so when I sit down to start, I can crank out two chapters in an hour or two and get a good start on the book.

A couple of years ago I was writing a book called ‘Raul the Son’ about a race of very old, potato-men like creatures. Raul was the youngest and had to leave the colony to search for the sun. When I was writing it, it became very complex. There was a lot of back story and different clans after different things…then I went on holiday for six weeks. It was already up to about 300 pages, so when I got back I had forgotten all the twists and turns and the sub-plots, not to mention a lot of names of characters and places. I liked that book a lot and would have sent to publishers, but it was too hard to jump back into it, so I just left it. I’ve tried twice to go through it, jotting down all the characters and where the story lines were going, but it was a mess. It needed to be rewritten and edited, badly. So, Raul the Son sits half finished in writers limbo. I have the fuel to finish it, just not the time. I’d written it so long ago that I feel like I had moved on to other projects.

ImageI don’t think writers block is a real issue. The issue is sitting down to write when you have nothing. Maybe the time that books has been sitting idle will draw you back to the keyboard and you’ll sit and stare at it saying ‘come on! Come on!’ and your fingers just won’t move. If you’re halfway through a book, surely you have a vague idea where its headed. I normally know the ending, not in great detail, but enough to write towards it. Think of where your characters are going and what they have to do, or go through to reach the end.

Mitchell Tierney

Take a Number and Get in Line

As I was coming up to the end of one book, I was thinking – which book will I write next? And did I actually have one to write? I do, in fact. I have many on the list to write, but it doesn’t work like that. If I count all the books that have some sort of story line, and all the books that have characters and that I’ve started because I was excited and stopped because it wasn’t time, I might have around four or five started books.

I can’t write a book on one idea, I need a few to meld together, and I can’t write a book with only one or two characters, I need a few to get started. This is where most of my books are at. I also can’t get started on writing a new book until it has a name. Weird as that sounds, it’s just something I have to wait for. The next book I was going to write was going to be called The Guardians of Unhow. I was a little sick of writing YA books where the characters travel into a different ‘worlds’ and have to get back. I had just finished one and have another yet to write, so I wanted to stay away from that. Unhow had some characters, a basic plot that could be fleshed out later but not a lot of magnetism that was drawing me to it. Next was a book that didn’t have a name. It was an idea I had a few years ago where kids band together to rid their street of witches. First it was going to be vampires, but as we all are, I’m over vampires for now. I had the characters, a basic setting and story line and it was ready to go, but I couldn’t come up with a cool name for it. I juggled some ideas around, but nothing sounded cool and would stick, so that got pushed to the side. I had started a book which had an awful, ‘for now,’ title of The Travelling Performers. I had decided that its story line and characters would be morphed with Unhow to create one book. So there were about three books floating around and I’m trying to jam them all together in one pot to have enough oomph to start writing. I think I may have been in panic mode.

So I left it alone. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t have the next book lined up. I’d never taken an intentional week off from writing, unless I was away somewhere and couldn’t get to my computer, or moving, or someone was visiting. It’s like reading, I know what book I’m going to read next, if I have a few, and I do, I’ll start picking one about a week before I finish reading my current one. Should I read JG Bollards Concrete Island? Should I read the new Pratchett or King? What about the Spooks book? But then again, there is that autobiography by Zak Bagans? So many options. I have this mindset where I feel like I have to choose a book I can read fast, so I can get to other books. Which is the same way I’m currently thinking about writing. I have an epic book I know I have to write and it’ll take up a lot of time and energy, and I want it to be right, so I’ll just wait. For what exactly, I don’t know. I guess I’m waiting for the right time, if that exists at all. I had just come off the back of writing Monster Detention, which was about a year, maybe more and about 500 pages long, so I wasn’t ready to write another mammoth book. My next book I gave a 120 page limit, even though I knew this would be too short if it ever went to publication, but I could add to it later. I finished that and started on Everdark Realms Aquillians book II, which has an even shorter page limit. But even though I haven’t written an epic book in a while, I feel like I couldn’t commit to another one just now, so that leaves The Lost Book of the Blood Baron out for the time being.

Nothing was tapping me on the shoulder, like The Magnificent Mr. Harlow, nothing had excited me and I was starting to think maybe I had written too much in the last two years? I did two NaNoWriMo’s and a few other books and the Everdark books. I had written quite a few blogs and a few short stories – maybe my tank was finally running on low. Then this happened…

I was sitting at work, doing a very long data-entry task when two words appeared like a vision in front of my eyes – Elephant Stone. I must have read a word quickly, or got something jumbled up, but it appeared for just a brief moment. I could see its font, the white background and the general look of the book, then the flood gates opened. For nearly three days I wrote notes for this book. Each day I would type them up in the rough draft. I hadn’t been this excited to write something new for a while. It had all the good pieces from the other books that were already established but had nowhere to go.

Although, sometimes I feel like I’m writing for nothing because I spend my time writing and not concentrating on getting my finished manuscripts out there. I think, what’s the point of having ten books on the computer that no one will read? I always hope that each book is slightly better than the one before, in writing, grammar and style, that I grow as a writer one page at a time. But then I think, what if my big break does come and a publisher wants to see my stuff? Or if they ask me what types of books I have, I’ll have a range for them to choose from. I did think once, what if I stop writing? Just lose interest and take up another hobby? I don’t think I could do that now, looking through my files and files of books and stories, I’ve come too far and dug too deep to get out.

Mitchell Tierney

Copy. Paste. Repeat.

I’ve ordered a book called Fablehaven by Brendon Mull. It sounded really good and in the same vein as the stuff I write for kids and young adults. It’s about a place called Fablehaven where the last of the mythical creatures live in a sanctuary away from the real world. A brother and sister find out that their grandfather is actually the caretaker. I liked the premise and thought it was a really great idea and wished I had come up with it. So, as I eagerly await its arrival it got me thinking about these types of books and I realised I had been down this path before…

I remember when The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black came out, it had a similar premise – children find that their grandfather had written a book about the mythical creatures that live around their mansion. I remember getting the book before the movie came out and thinking it was so formulated and predictable that I couldn’t help but think ‘Kids are gonna love this,’ with a long sigh. You could say it was original and written fairly well, but it was lacking something. Holly Black has a history of writing for role playing games and has published other books about Faeries. My feelings about this book are the same for A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Although Unfortunate Events was written with a little more originality, it stuck by the same formula – the kids lose their parents in a fire and are orphaned out and an evil uncle is trying to kill them for their inheritance.

There is no way kids are NOT going to love these books. They’re exciting, full of danger and adventure and close calls. Same goes for Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. These books are all part of a series; chock full of supernatural, mythical and horror themes. They all involve the protagonists as children and have a book that comes out, like clockwork, once a year. But the thing I find with these books is that they never really explode in popularity, or have the lasting effect, like Harry Potter or Narnia or His Dark Materials. The movies they make from these books are one hit, summer release, wonders. Unfortunate Events movie had the first three books in one movie, the same with Spiderwick. Harry Potter had no problem reaching the 7-8 movie mark, but Naria still struggles to make a movie out of all its books. Lord of the Rings did it too, cutting a lot from the books and only now, since the success of the movies nearly ten years ago are they making the Hobbit. Inkheart appeared as a film, but I haven’t watched it, nor anyone I know. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief never had any sequels. I guess a movie is a good way for people to get into the books they’re based on. It’s happened to me before. Movies bring in the fans of the books, who are mostly disappointed, but still just happy a movie was made out of the book, no matter how much they cut out of it or get wrong.

I’m getting off the track again…So many books are released these days that are a carbon copy of something that has come out before. It is hard to be original because mostly everything has been done. Every idea has already been thought of. What needs to be done, to stand out in today’s market, is to write well and have unique ideas within the book. I had a rule when writing one of my ongoing books Hexagram, environment always comes first. When I started writing it years ago I wrote on a piece of paper – location, location, location. And that was my first rule. Every scene had to be set somewhere unique and it had to be described continuously throughout the chapter. It’s great for a writer too, you get to push yourself to describe locations you may not have ever been in.

I was in Dymocks book store the other day and I was staring at the rows of children’s books that line the shelves. I got lost in the throng of fantasy books, all the same colours, with similar covers. Some series I saw were up to twelve or fifteen books. To me, they all seemed clones of one another. How can you make an impact in this genre without being lumped into the copy, paste, repeat formula?

I’ve talked once before about going too deep and too far off the beaten track that you lose your readers, things become over exaggerated and your left with this hapless feeling of never getting out of the hole the writers has dug for you. Then again, you don’t want to become predictable, boring or repetitive. I think Star Wars had it right the first time round. You know exactly what happened to who, in which movie. The three movies have different story lines, they introduce new characters and to keep it interesting, I find that I associate the movies with different colours. Empire Strikes Back, everyone knows it started on Hoth, the ice planet. Lots of snow, AT-AT walkers. It’s very blue and white. Return of the Jedi is set on Endor, very green and brown, with speeder bikes and Ewoks. These are large characters and environments that are totally different from one another, but you can drag the reader along because they know the characters from all the movies.

Writing this now, a few weeks after I wrote the start, I’ve read the first few chapters in Fablehaven and am struggling to keep with it. I still don’t know what the lead characters look like, I can’t relate to them, (even my nine year old self wouldn’t). I just don’t feel anything for them. The big reveal of the sanctuary was almost said in passing. Every paragraph I read I kept thinking of exciting stuff that I would have written, and then the story sags. I’m sorry, this is what I do when I read now, ‘I would have written it this way,’ ‘It would have been better if he did this…’ What do I take from this? To write my books better. To write better, more unique characters with complex story lines. I’m no longer reading, but studying.

Mitchell Tierney

Mitchell’s latest book Everdark Realms: The Darkening is now available at http://www.ouroborusbooks.com/shop

 

The Gift

This year for Christmas, my true love gave to me a conundrum. Not only did I have to figure out:

a) how a partridge managed to lodge itself in my pear-tree; but also

b) how exactly I came to be the owner of a pear-tree; and furthermore

c) how to deal with the disdainful present of … well, a book. (Bookworms around the world pass out).

Okay, clearly, I’m exaggerating.  It wasn’t my true love. And of the above, only part c) is in fact accurate. Clearly if I owned a partridge I would not be sitting here at present. I’d be teaching it to play fetch.

The book was given to me by a family friend who was surprisingly thoughtful and put two (I love books) and two (I love books) together and came up with books. And I’m afraid I haven’t been this disappointed in a long time. I haven’t wished for socks so bad in my life. And I feel really bad!

I was touched by her thoughtfulness. And I was over the moon to discover it was a book. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but it’s just not a book I’m into. Despite this, I really tried to read it. And sincerely wished I hadn’t.

It’s not just the genre. This book is in short, well trash. It’s the sort of story they turn into a midday movie that you’re further afflicted with when you’re home sick because clearly you haven’t suffered enough.

Still, I did try and oh how I tried to read this, out of respect for the gift, out of respect for the simple fact that it is a book. And I just could not do it. One page was mindless stupidity involving the two main protagonists calling each other “darling” whilst sipping champagne and discussing their engagement. It reeked of superficial, rich, Manhattan nothing. No A5 sheet of dialogue should have the word “darling” in it 7 times, unless it’s a comedy pointing out the obvious fact that the protagonists are calling each other darling through gritted teeth. I hope the writer got a thesaurus for Christmas. In short it was bollocks. Complete bollocks, and I feel for the forest that was ripped to shreds to make copies of this pure crap that was eventually sold to the masses who actually buy this pure crap. If you need fertilizer, hit up the hardware stores, people!

Oh the torment that pulsated through my being when the protagonist had to decide between fish and chicken for their wedding reception! Nail-biting moments, simply nail-biting. I had an alternative suggestion – big bowls of plastic to go with the rest of that fake bollocks. These characters could not have been more dense and plastic and fake if they had been manufactured by Mattel.

This was one of those books that made me want to take the ‘author’ out with a pea-shooter full of pellets made from her book.

I’m sorry to say, this wasn’t a book, it was embarrassing and unfortunately it’s opened me up to the hideous truth that I can no longer dream of reading and devouring all the books in the world. Because some are so painfully damaged I’m surprised they’re not in therapy.

It pains me to think of it. I love books. Love them. And yet, I’ve come across a book I just can’t stand. There was no story, no real characters, nothing. There was no point to this thick mass of nothing. And it breaks my heart that there are truly talented writers, yet to be discovered who haven’t had their work published, yet there is this crap out there.

I know, it sounds like I’ve done a complete about-face since my blog about ‘at least it’s got them reading’. Here’s the thing. I love anything that introduces people to the world of reading and books and makes it more enjoyable for them. But it’s like that midday movie, it’s like that trashy magazine. Yeah, sure, sometimes it’s great to hang out and enjoy something entertaining and slightly mindless. We all have that moment. But I am advocate for the story. And I’m a big advocate for a good character. You know this; you’ve read my blogs about it.

I suppose the reason I write this is to be honest here. The main goal for any writer, I would imagine would be to write a story well. When I get together with other writer friends of mine, we sometimes read each other’s work and give critiques. Not bad ones, just feedback from an audience and writer point of view. It’s great, because there is a lot that we can sometimes miss. And there are things out there that we need fresh eyes and fresh perspectives on. It’s happened with my work a bit, and I’ve done it with other people’s work. It’s important not to get so wrapped up that you can’t see the story for all the words. And I think that’s what’s happened here. Either this author’s editor was too scared to tell her that this needs to be tweaked, or there was no editing process at all. No one was on hand to read this beforehand and mention that the characters need…character. They can’t be cut out of a cereal box and stuck in a book.

And yet, when stories like this are published, it throws some of my beliefs out the window. If the goal is to get your work published, and to do this by writing really well, then how is it possible for this kind of trash to exist in the public forum? I think the answer is democracy. We’re lucky to have the freedom to write whatever we choose and because we’re this lucky, some hideously written work will get out into the world. It’s up to the discerning public on whether they choose to read this or not.

My only advice to writers is, though it is disheartening when you see something that’s just painful to read, and as a published work makes a mockery of all things writing, keep going. Yes. It hurts. I know I’ve been there, I’m designing the shirt. But keep going. Personally, I use these sorts of books as a reminder of what not to do. I don’t want my characters to turn out like this, and it’s a great way to keep that in the back of my mind when I’m writing. A brilliant teacher of mine once told me, you only fail if you give up. Never think that you’re a failed writer, because your work hasn’t been published. It will happen, if you keep going. Among a lot of my writing friends it seems to be the consensus that if you’ve received a few rejection letters from publishers, you’re onto a good thing and your work is probably pretty damn good. Hey look, it’s so good it’s been rejected a few times.

So my point here is keep going.

Oh, the book? Yeah, I’m giving it Lifeline. I figure they might get a few bucks for it at their amazing bookfest.

 By Sandy Sharma

LOSING THE PLOT (LITERALLY AND LITERARILY)

There’s nothing I hate more than reading a series that starts to get too deep and complicated. Reading these books, you can hear the writer digging their own grave. For example, the Spooks Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. The first few books were amazing. It was so fresh and new it gave me tingles every time I read the first few chapters of the new books, but after the fifth book, things began to become a little…complicated. Spooks Apprentice is set in 17th or 18th Century when the English county is overrun with ghosts and ghouls and witches. Spooks are seventh sons of seventh sons, they have the ability to see things others can’t. They use rowan staffs, salt and iron to defeat evil. Joseph Delany strips back the basic ghost defeating apparatus and sticks to very basic mechanics to deal with evil, and it works. I liked it because Tom Ward, the main character, is friends with a witch, Alice, and the Spook doesn’t like it, but puts up with it. It’s written like a journal entry, through the eyes of Tom as he deals with his grumpy master and his dealings with the supernatural.

After the fourth book, the story started to become much the same old plot. Something exciting happens at the beginning, some major evil bogart or witch is planning something and all hope is gone, then they defeat it. From book three to six, I can’t tell you which book was about what, or what happened in each one, which I don’t find to be bad as such. If I had a series of six or seven books, I’d write each one to be so unique you could remember each book and know what happened in each one. Where Joseph Delaney started to go downhill was when he went beyond the suspension of belief and dived into the realm of unrealistic plots. I can believe there are bogart’s and witches, I can even believe in evil demons and swamp creatures. In book five or six, Tom Ward starts to make a deal with Satan to save the souls of all the people he loves. Satan appears then tells him something that changes the way he thinks about his witch friend Alice. Now, Alice produces a ‘blood jar’ to keep Satan away and he must have it with him at all times. Tom talks to Satan regularly and now he must not leave Alice’s side. After closing book seven, The Spooks Nightmare, I just wanted it to go back to being the way it was. I don’t like the Satan story line. It’s too complicated; it’s too entangled and unbelievable. I liked the spooks books where it was simple and exciting, without being overly pretentious. I have book eight, but haven’t read it yet. I dread reading it because I don’t know how he is going to shake this plot. He’s in too deep to just give the reader a simple bail out, he has to do something dramatic. It became too much to suspend belief and doesn’t make me want to read it, although there are only another two books to go and then Joseph Delaney is ending the series.

I got the same feeling from a book called the Monstromologist by Rick Yancey. It started off so well, very similar to Spooks Apprentice. I young boy is left to a grumpy old man who hunts monsters after his parents perish in a fire. It starts awesome – set in the 18th century. Late, one cold night, there is a knock at the door; it’s a grave robber with a monster in his cart hidden under a sheet. The main character, Will, helps his master carry it inside and they dissect it and find there is a plague of these monsters that have come to their town, then, half way through it loses its steam. Will and the Monstromologist visit a boat Captain who is bed ridden. He was on the boat that had accidently brought the monsters over from somewhere else. Rick Yancey stayed for about three chapters on this one scene. It was drawn out, boring and way too long. At one point I wanted to slam the book shut and thrown it out the window. I just couldn’t keep reading, but I was so far into the book, and as a general rule, I don’t give up on books. I had to grin and bare it. It was a long slog, but I got through it and did, I must admit, want to read the next book, but looking back I just can’t get over that massive drag in the middle, and that is what stuck with me primarily.

I get authors who want to change it up a bit. Because you would get bored writing to the same formula every time. If the new plot decisions breathe new life into the book, why not? Because spooks apprentice is coming to an end, I would like to see Tom Ward grow up into a man and become in charge of his own county. I’d like to see everything that he has learnt become tried and tested, that’s how I’d like to see the book end. But with this Satan story line, it’s hard to see them wrapping it up in the next two books without leaving a large scar down its face. I’ll reread the first book, possibly in the future, but not the others.

 

Mitchell Tierney