I’ve used the same general layout for the Paranormology series – Two thirds picture at the top, one third writing at the bottom. The top is of the haunted building. The bottom contains the title and author upon a close up of some of the material making up the structure.
The Smashwords guidelines specify a minimum width of 1400 pixels, with a height greater than the width. I use 1400 x 2278. For the lower section, I’ve chosen a piece of wall with some cracks and flaking paint:
After that, I’ll add in the title and the author, along with a flourish to separate the two. I used the font Augustus because it was narrow and crisp. I’ve made a duplicate of the writing layer to have a slight coloured rim around the lettering.
Now that’s alright by itself, but the brickwork needed to be contrasted a tad more with the writing, so I added a glow to it, reduced the contrast and added in a purple and yellow wash. I then put a shroud on the outside and bordering the two images, to give it a slightly darker look.
I threw in some faint plasma for a swirling, mystic look and finally added some snow at the bottom panel to tie it all in. The result:
I really needed a picture of this house for the front cover. But taking the photo is only the first part of the job. Next was turning this rather old looking piece into something one might consider haunted.
The house, captured in broad daylight, was not exactly ‘creepy’ looking. Not only that, as you can see there are artefacts within that would not belong in a Victorian era story. Anachronisms, perhaps? Either way, they had to go:
We can see the walker, the plastic bins, the electrical junctions and the wires. The letterbox looks fine and the number on the door is too small to make out, so that’s good, too. Oh, right, and the compact fluorescent lamp as well. Another little ditty is the reflection in the glass – there’s a ute in there. Aaaand that building over to the right.
To get rid of these things, I used the good old ‘clone’ tool in Gimp. The technique is to carefully clone parts of the surrounding background and surface over the top of the unwanted anomalies.
This works best with consistent (like the grey bricks) or noisy (like the mulch on the ground) backgrounds. It’s a pain in the bum with distinct, contrasting objects like the fence rods and the window. For these, I had to match up the cloning very carefully indeed to avoid a glaring inconsistency with the straight lines.
Not that anyone is looking that closely, but still. It’s also a heck of a lot easier when you don’t have a Joey jostling your arm every few seconds.
I then removed the sky, twiddled with it, darkened it and kept it for later. The colour of the house and the leaves needed to be duller and more dreary. For this I adjusted the grey bricks to be more purple, and the green leaves to be more yellow. The top windows needed dulling (because we can’t reflect a blue sky at night, right?) which was a matter of using the magic selector and reducing the lightness.
With all that done, it was time to add some layering in there.
The story is set in winter, and while it is not full-blown midwinter, it’s still cold and there is a smattering of snow about. Well, that means I needed to add snow. Where and how the heck could I do that? It took some doing, but I think I got there. More on that in a tick.
In the story, it is winter. It is cold. It is snowing. The problem I faced is that this photograph is in Melbourne, in Summer, when it’s hot and definitely does not snow. I could think about, say, grabbing a can of shaving cream and spraying it about, but I doubt the owner would be impressed and the result wouldn’t cut it. The only thing for it is to add fake snow over the top of the image:
The snow was done in three passes. I use Gimp to do the dirty work, mostly because I’m comfortable with it, and also because there are a lot of little tools and filters that can help out.
First, I used the chalk shaped brush, with a white to grey gradient, and passed it over the ‘top’ surfaces of things, so the window sills, the fence posts, the railings. It’s not a heavy coating, more a smattering, because it’s early winter. I was going to do more on the footpath, but it turned out, when I did a quick check, that the image on the book wouldn’t be able to include the lower quarter. Ah, well.
The thing is, the image above is still too sunny and happy, so I wanted to add in some more, falling, snow. So be it:
So there’s snow on the ground, some falling snow, and I’ve gloomified the setting. It’s looking a bit more like what I had in mind, but there’s still more to go. I need the sky back, for starters, and I want some highlights on the house so that it’s not one grey, amorphous blob.
I duplicated the house layer and blended it together with the underlying house to bring up more of the detail. The clouds in the sky looked about right with a dark filter on there, so I left that alone.
Right, all that’s left is to add it into the general template for the Paranormology series.
It’s getting harder and harder to find houses that fit the front covers for my stories. The latest, Cooper Alley Ghost, needed to be old, craggy, two storey and squishy. Why? Because it’s in an alley, not a street or avenue. Trolling the haunts of Moonee Ponds and Essendon, hunting about for the right one, I came up with a whole lot of not much. This one is single storey. This one is too grand. This one is way too modern. The houses in that area, you see, tend to be sitting on large blocks. There’s a nice, comfortable feel about them and those that have be squishified into apartments and the like tend to have been built only within the past decade or two. Not at all suitable.
So I gave up on that and scratched my head some and thought and thought and thought. If only I had a jet-pack, I could fly about the suburbs and rapidly cull from my list the houses and buildings that weren’t suitable, and narrow in on those that were. I don’t have a jet-pack. And even if I did, I doubt that it would be the most practical way to… and I struck upon an idea. Google Street View, of course! Why bother driving around, slowly crawling the backstreets and looking creepy, when some gigantic tech company has done that already? No, really, have you seen the cars? It’s a little creepy the way they putter up and down, and even more creepy when they go into the back-alleys of Carlton and show you the insides of people’s backyards.
Anyway, after comparing the tomato gardens of the people of Fitzroy and Carlton, I got back to my task and hunted about for a house that would fit the bill. After twenty minutes, boom, there it was – the ideal house. Two storey, slightly creepy and crumbled, squished between two other houses. A tiny front yard and a smattering of plants. Perfect. Now I just had to get there and take a photograph.
Well, it’s school holidays, and that means I’m taking care of Joey, dragging him about, taking him to the pool, to work, to boxing, to the shops. None of those places are anywhere near Carlton. Bum. OK, so we had to make a special trip. On the hottest day of the year. And we were in Port Melbourne, had to fight through the city traffic to reach the other side. That, or go on a long, sweep around. Either way would be unpleasant. The city, at that time in the morning, I reasoned, shouldn’t be so terrible. That’s a relative term. The traffic was lighter than peak-hour, granted, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been faster walking. And don’t get me started on the terrible driving. The day was getting hotter, Joey was getting crankier and my patience was getting drier. We finally popped out the other side and reached Nicholson Street.
Parking. Yay, hadn’t thought about that. I normally ride a scooter, so there’s no need to worry about parking. On Nicholson Street was not an option – all the parks were gone. So I hit up Leicester Street and poked about there. Permit parks over here, no standing over there and lots and lots of ticketed parking. Heck, all I wanted to do was jump out, take a happy snap and go home. Not happening. So then it’s around to the next street and the next and, a stroke of luck! There was a two hour spot just waiting for us next to a (much needed) water bubbler.
We got out, headed to the house (just up the road) and, wouldn’t you know it? There was roadworks signs and parked cars all over the place, with no clear shot. I tried from a few angles. No good. I stood closer and further, tried the zoom on the camera. Still no good. Joey was at boiling point. So was I. “Blow it,” I said, “Wasn’t there a 7-Eleven on the way over?” A slurpee took joey off the boil and shut him up for at least thirty seconds while I thought. I didn’t fight all that way to give up, and considering the general feel and age of the suburb, there had to be other samples about. We wandered up and down for a little while. At last! A house! Two floors, old, etc. Sure, there’s a car parked in front but it’s back far enough that with the wide angle on I should be able to…
And just at that moment, the occupant of the house comes home on his bike. No, seriously. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, of course. I was on the sidewalk, taking photographs, but you can appreciate how uncomfortable it got. So there were a few shots with said occupant in the picture, putting his bike inside. Can’t use those:
Nope. I went to the house next door, but its front was way too close to the street, so that was no good. Nope, it was this one or nothing. I stole back, distracted Joey with something shiny in an alley, flipped the phone to wide-angle and took the shot. Boomshakalaka and thar she blows, a fine specimen of an aged house… complete with treadmill out the front, plastic garbage bins and electricity.
Once I’d finished with the front cover of Adaptation, I had a look at some of my other titles. Yep, you guessed it, I wasn’t happy with them. I mean, the Paranormology series ain’t so bad (except, let’s be honest, Beaumauris Road Ghost) and Atlas, Broken is almost where I want it to be, but The Bullet stood out as the poor, underloved book that just wanted to have its day.
The Bullet was one of the stories, back in 2014, that I pushed out without too much thought. It was the first to be put into hard-copy, because it was small and easy to manipulate I guess, good for a trial run. But it’s still a book and it still wants love.
So there’s the old cover. Come to think of it, that’s the one for the print, since the text is slightly to the left and squished in a bit, but never mind that. The whole point is that while the bullet is front and centre, sure, and the story is about the bullet, the cover doesn’t really let your eye do anything more than read the text and see the bullet. The factory in the background isn’t prominent. In fact, I was showing Joey just the other day and he said, “Yeah, I like it, but what’s are all those lines at the back?”
Good lesson there, too. Ask a kid. They’ll be honest.
So I got to thinking about covers and what makes this yawn-worthy? Firstly, it doesn’t convey anything about the book apart from the obvious – The Bullet, with a bullet on it. OK, great, what else? The factory is stunted, there’s nothing steampunk about it, and it doesn’t challenge me in any way. It’s also very symmetric (aside from the squishing to fit it to a print book) so, really, there’s nowhere for the eye to go but top to bottom.
I trudged back over my source material again and looked at a bunch of other book covers and realised, yup, it needs a make-over.
So here we have a completely different design. Firstly, it’s darker. There’s no factory to fuddle things up, but the implication is there what with all the smoke billowing about. You’ll also note, there isn’t one bullet, but many, highlighting the major theme of the story, of this bullet and its peers. It’s challenging in that it asks what’s so special about this bullet that looks exactly the same as the ones next to it. The font is an older newspaper-style, formed but haggard, rough and rusted. Lastly, the symmetry is removed, with the words somewhat right aligned, but not perfectly.
The eye is free to bounce about a bit, first gathering the bullet, then the words, then picking at the bullets in the rows to see if there is any difference between them, anything further to see through the haze of steam and smoke. The rows of perfect rounds suggests a factory, a process, so there’s no need to harp on about it.
With such a large print and uncluttered image, it looks waaaaaay better on the small scale which, as I’ve come to realise, is very important, considering most book sites display their wares in small icons and thumbnails.
I asked Joey what he thought about this one. He said, “I dunno. I liked the first one.”
Kids, eh? What do they know?
This cover change was also necessary because, well, I’ll let you know in a bit.
It’s wintertime. It’s cold. It’s fireplaces and curled up cats and cups of tea on the couch.
I like winter. I like being able to rug up in jumpers and wear hats and gloves. Most of the time, even when it’s chilly, I’m pretty hot. Maybe it’s got something to do with genetics and my metabolism or whatever, but unless I’ve got the flu I’m usually trying my best to cool down.
I stick my feet out the side of the bed. I wear only pants because a pyjama top is too constrictive. I don’t like having a warm cup of cocoa before hitting the hay. Give me some water. Just the way God made me, I guess. On a side note, it’s the Smashwords Summer (Winter in the Southern Hemisphere) Sale – get e-tonnes of e-books for bargain prices, with many of them (including all of mine) as free.
One major benefit of being a walking radiator is that I’m quite at home sitting outside on a cold night, and that’s where I’ve been during the cool autumn nights and winter evenings. There’s a little table and chairs set up on the porch, you see, and it’s perfect for writing out my drafts for the next Tedrick Gritswell. Perched out there with a coffee or a cognac, take your pick, I managed to knock out the first draft fairly quick.
Now I’ve done the ol’ red pen trick, and I’m happy with my second. I’ve already made notes to myself for where I’ve dropped a few stitches, and I’m tidying those up as I’m going. Nearly time to print it out again and go for the third.
There’s something special about this time of the book. It’s ‘done’ but not done. You can see it, touch it, it’s there and real, but not so real as being published. That rumbling feeling that comes up as the anticipation builds. The myriad conflicting ideas about whether a section should even exist, whether Bill should have a greater role in the story, whether this bit is too verbose, too lax, too crude. It’s time to chill again, be patient and print it out.
It’s a laborious process, believe me, and there’s every temptation to put it down and play Metro Redux, but that’s not going to get the cows milked, is it? It’s the final slog to the end, to keep pushing until it’s at that point I nod my head and say, “That’ll do it.”
Until then, to keep my mind in the zone, I’ve been working on the cover and the title page. Here’s the latest:
There’ll be a bit of poking an prodding with this bit – I don’t want to rush out the front cover just yet. Once I’m happy, I’ll make a post about the design process behind it and let you know.
The deadline to get Portsmouth Avenue Ghost up on pre-release was the 21st of November. I hit that deadline. Great. Yay me. Well, I didn’t hit it as much as I flopped messily against it, exhausted, frustrated and strung-out. With everything else that’s going on, the point of hitting the ‘upload’ button on Smashwords felt like an afterthought.
Who made that deadline, anyway? What’s the point of it? Why bother putting myself through the wringer just to hit some arbitrary date scrawled on a whiteboard? Doesn’t that turn writing into a chore?
Let me answer those one by one: I made the deadline. I made a date for the first draft. Then, when I reached that, I made a date for the second, then the third and also for the cover. Finally I made the deadline for the pre-release.
The point is that by making dates and tracking my progress, I force my focus onto getting that task done. I then prioritise writing over, say, playing video games or watching television. The priority game also comes into play when I’ve got other creative tasks on the menu, like making You Tube videos or drawing or painting or crafting.
Sounds good, right? Keeping myself on track, avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination and distraction. It’s more than that, though. There’s this thing called Reality.
Most decisions are beyond me. It’s often not a matter of ‘I can do this, or I can do that’, rather it’s ‘I must do this and I must do that’. See the difference?
The real question is why do I threaten my health and sanity just to reach some uninteresting date imposed by no one other than myself? It’s quite simple, really. I have commitments. I have to work, no questions. I have to take care of my family, no questions. I have to deal with emergencies and chores and errands and last-minute things. There’s no choice about that.
If I want anything of my own to be accomplished, then I have to afford it a status of ‘has to be done’, otherwise it can’t compete against the rest.
And, yes, it does turn writing into a chore. If I was writing for myself or for a friend, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m writing for a bunch of people I’ve never even met. I’m putting my name to a book that can be read by some guy on the other side of the world and he expects that what he gets passes a basic standard, and, more than that, expects it to be entertaining or informative. He won’t be as forgiving as a friend or relative. My credibility is directly linked to his enjoyment of it.
You’re damn right it’s a chore. It’s bloody hard work!
Imagine you’re making a batch of home-brew beer. There’s the cleaning and the sterilising, and the washing and the cooking, checking up on it, then the bottling and capping and storing it all under the house and checking again at intervals. It’s hard work, for sure, and one could easily pop down to the store and buy a slab, but that’s not the point, is it?
Deep down we want to create something. We want to put ourselves into what we do, express ourselves creatively, make something from nothing. That’s being human. Not all creative endeavours benefit others, of course, but those that do must be taken seriously.
A sketch on a napkin or a ditty in one’s head remain just as they are until they get turned into something ‘real’, in that they get taken seriously. The ditty gets engineered into a song. The sketch gets worked into a painting. Time and effort, lots of both, must be spent making something from nothing, creating things that never existed before we applied what God gifted us. Otherwise those little bursts of creativity stay on that scrunched up napkin and eventually get forgotten about.
Believe me, it’s all too easy to pretend that it doesn’t matter. You can think, “Ah, I’ll miss it by a day. Big deal.” It is a big deal. I’ve missed many deadlines and, each time, I kidded myself that there was nothing more that could have been done.
Each time there was something I could have done. Without exception, every time I looked back, with honest eyes, and understood that I had left things too late, wasted time at the beginning of my project, spent too much effort doing trivial tasks. I could have done more and I could have done it better. Criticising myself retrospectively (another useful tool) means that, now, I reach my deadlines.
Deadlines are a front-line weapon against Entropy. They are an essential tool to make stuff real. Use them honestly and they’ll keep you honest.
I did it. As I rode home, I went over and over the possible situations: A hostile occupant. A disinterested one. Getting told to sod off. Getting an over-eager interest. How would it turn out? How would it all end?
I circled the block, checked it for other houses that might be more suitable (there weren’t), parked the bike, cricked my neck, cricked my fingers, admonished myself for procrastinating, and took off my helmet. “Hi, my name is Jeremy Tyrrell… Hmm. G’day, you don’t know me… nah. Hi, there. This might sound strange… Nup. Yo, firstly, I’m not here to sell you anything… Oh, boy.”
Clearly, pre-planning wasn’t working, so I opted to just wing it. Somehow, that felt better, or made more sense. I don’t know.
The front door was just over there. Only a few steps away. Through the gate, along the path, up the steps and across the portico, then ding-dong! Show time.
Easy as. Only the gate wouldn’t open. A latch? A bolt? Hasp and staple? No. A wire was tightly wrapped around the gate securing it to the brickwork.
No go, eh bro? Not so.
I am reminded by the saying, “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Is that even legal?
Good question. I had to do some searching around to get a handle on photography laws as it pertains to private properties and public places. Turns out, it’s actually quite legal.
In a nutshell, unless I’m a Peeping Tom (kinda tough to be one at 5:30 on a main road), or being a nuisance, taking a photograph of a building or scene that is visible from a public area is fine. There are exclusions, such as if one is photographing a commercial concern and goes on to make proceeds out of what is essentially not theirs, or if one has been told to push off, or if there are minors involved.
If one is on private property, however, permission needs to be obtained from the owner or relevant body.
In short, if you’re on the street, it’s fair game.
The result? Ehhh, not so fast. A got a photograph, but it’s not a cover just yet, not without removing things like telephone wires, street numbers, garbage bins, antennae and all of that.
I like this house. Handsome, two floors, a lovely garden, and large enough to sport several rooms. The sky above looks pretty turbulent, too. just need to make it darker, gloomier.
There’s a fair way to go yet. Right now, I’m getting a tea and going to bed.
It seems that everyone wants something from you these days. There’s always a catch. There’s always a gotcha. Always?
Believe it or not, there are people out there who actually care about the independents. One of them is Smashwords – easy and friendly publishing for independent authors. But what about musicians?
Where can you get your song played so people will actually hear it? Where can you rub shoulders with other people, just like you, from all across the world?
Radio Rock 92.6 The Blitz, that’s where – find it at 926theblitz.rocks, or get it on the Spreaker App. That’s Spreaker with an R.
Hosted by Tom Slick (a fellow author, by the way) and bunch of groovy cats like Frankie Mae, Arabella Fox and Simone De Haas (a fellow Aussie), you get a mix of rock, soul, pop and country to both soothe and groove.
Why am I going about the Blitz? Because independent artists need to bind together, support each other, work together to face up against the struggle of being a squeaky voice quashed underneath the noise of corporate marketing.
The Blitz is one of those places you can go to listen to good music, stuff you haven’t heard before, stuff you’ll be tapping your toe to and thinking, “Damn, why hasn’t anyone else heard this?”
The Blitz is where you can go to showcase your own tunes. Want to be heard worldwide? You bet. There are artists from the UK, from Ireland, Russia, Canada, Australia, Israel, the US, Germany… and it’s where I first heard Circe Link, Nina Storey, Blane Howard, Rick Mercer, Swami Lushbeard, Dreamkiller, Amanda Jones, the Bonazzoli Band, the Sixth Generation, A & L Music, Revulsa – Ah! The list keeps going!
The Blitz is the internet radio station I’ve got pumping through my headphones while I’m slogging away at code. The guys behind it are passionate. They give a damn. That’s why I’m doing my best to support it:
You should, too. Donating via Patreon is the way to go, even if it’s only a dollar a month. Or grab yourself Official Blitzer merchandise. Or, you know what? Just listen in and jump on the forum, shout out The Blitz wherever you can – after all, it’s for the indies.
Or, perhaps you can get in contact and ask Tommo to play your tunes?
Side note: the Blitz is on an official break for the moment, but they’ll be back on air in a few weeks. Never mind, you can still listen to latest shows and hit the archives on the Spreaker app, or cruise the website.