You’ve written a book. Super! You’ve edited it, you’ve put it through the wringer a few times, ironed out the bumps, made a front cover, and it’s looking shmick. You head over to your favourite publisher – Smashwords, KDP, Lulu, or perhaps you’re going the route of Calibre and doing it all yourself – and your fingers are trembling, your heart is racing.
Here it is, the big moment. The point where you give the world your work. You triple check everything, chew the last of your nail from your punished fingers and push the submit button.
It’s all published. Some publishers take a few hours or a day to get it online, others are instant. Great. But it’s up, it’s up. You can’t sleep that night and feverishly check back throughout the next day. One download.
One. Measly. Download.
The subsequent days aren’t much better. From the reports you get, there’s little or no interest at all. Why? Is your book not good enough? Did you need to do even more editing? Was the front cover lame?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Arguably the latter. Why?
How many books are out there, right now, in a library? Now, how many more are out there online? Now, how many books are being created every day?
The answers are, respectively, lots, even more and heaps. Your amazing book is a flash in a very bubbly pan. It’s almost luck that anyone got to download it. Sure, there are ‘New’ lists that people watch but, if they are asleep at the time you push your book out, there’s that opportunity gone. Even if you happen to hit the timing perfectly, that’s only a tiny portion of the people
If you have an agent, or get published through a large house, advertising and marketing is part of the (substantial) fee. They have people paid to reach customers and entice them to take a look-see at your book, and they’re good at what they do.
If you’re an independent then you are on your own. OK, so you can tell your family and friends, that’s good, it’s a start, but it cannot end there. Why? Because unless you’ve written for your family (or painted, or sung, come on now) then they aren’t the people who you want to see your work. Uncle Bob might be into your garage music, but sure as heck Aunty Mavis ain’t.
What you want is to thrust your goods into the ears and under the eyes of those who might actually dig what you’re dishing. OK, easy job, just go stick some fliers in some letterboxes or staple them to the telephone poles.
The fundamental problem is this: There’s you. There’s guy who would actually like to see what you’ve got. And between you are a thousands of other you’s in exactly the same boat, seeking to reach a hundred thousands of the other guys in the other boat. It is now your job, and it is a job, to get what you’ve done out there.
Over the course of a month or two, there will be people who trawl through the lists, bots that pick up on new releases in genres and tweet them to subscribers, reviewers who are looking for the next big thing. Relying on these things to get your book under people’s noses is folly. What you need to do is blow that horn, beat that drum and make some noise already!
The internet is your friend in this instance. It serves as a platform on which to serve your music and books and film, excellent, and it also serves as an enormous soapbox reaching, well, the entire world. Let me say that again: The internet soapbox has the potential to reach every country in the world. That’s a lot of people.
“But,” you say, “You said that there are a thousand people just like me doing the same thing, and many of those people have professionals to help them out!”
True, true, but let me put it this way: If you bury your head in the sand, you severely (dramatically, extremely, vastly, pick your own adverb) reduce your chances of been seen. If you stand up on the soap box, even though you might be rubbing shoulders with a bunch of your peers, at least you’re in the game.
Get active, go join a forum or three, give advice and chats, start a blog, post updates about what’s cracking in your world.
99% of people won’t give a coin about your antics. That leaves (Pauses to do the math) 1% who do. And its that 1% you want to reach. 99% of people don’t dig war novels. 1% do. 99% of people don’t like vampire romance. 1% do (Actually, that figure, unfortunately, may be higher). The point is, don’t give up because you can’t fathom the sheer numbers. Even if there’s one shmuck out there who gets you, awesome, you need to let him / her find you.
You have to be able to reach who you’re after in a manner that will encourage them to stop and take a look at you.
Word of mouth is good if your audience is of the type that likes to recommend things. Forums and social media work if you can pick the right niche, and get a rapport with the people who frequent them. Don’t stop with the internet, though. You know those fliers? Not a bad idea if your target demographic is at a uni campus. Not a great idea if they are farm hands.
The reality for any artist is that, in order to be seen, they need to raise their voice. It doesn’t have to be an earth shattering crescendo, or a big explosion, or a stunt. Rather, a consistent, well articulated, “I’m here” is a great place to start.
Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some of the marketing techniques and pitfalls I’ve come across.
There is a temptation, with everything we create, to fiddle and poke and prod to get it ‘just so’. This applies to writing, of course, but also to drawing and, as I’ve discovered, animating.
We start the creative process with an idea, vague or exact, of what we want to build. As we progress, the idea will morph as we think more and more about it, and it should, for rarely is an initial idea perfect.
Things change, ideas change, the goal will change. A book, painting or animation is made up of many ideas, and therein lies the problem: the bits will change at different rates and in different directions. The struggle of the artist (read: one of the many struggles) is to keep all of the moving parts aligned an synchronised with each other.
That’s very much a software developer’s perspective, you can tell by the wording, yet it’s quite applicable.
As I’m making more scenes, my drawing style is converging, so that my original sketches are dissimilar to my current ones. So too with the colouring. So too with what I intend to offer to the end user. Now that the music has come into play, the order and relevancy of the scenes is also under question.
Along with all of this, comes the desire to optimise before functionality has been achieved and, as any good programmer can tell you, premature optimisation is the road to Paintown, stopping all stations.
While things change, and they have to, its good to set a few core elements in concrete. For example, when it comes to books, I can maintain the theme, the premise, and the setting while being free to develop characters or explore morals, so long as they fit within the scope of the aforementioned.
Likewise with animation, I am keeping to the original plan of showing parts of the story rather than telling the story. Which means that the scenes can be out of order in order to fit with the music, and they can take artistic license to render a scene conceptually, rather than in actuality.
Using this approach, it also shows me that some scenes that I had originally earmarked for inclusion no longer fit under the category of ‘an important part of the story’. In short, if the scene did not demonstrate something new to viewer, then there was no real point including it in the final cut.
I guess this is why film makers take so many shots and leave most of it on the cutting room floor. Not everything is relevant.
Also, since the music has been locked into about a minute or so, I’m restricted to the amount of content to include. This isn’t such a terrible thing. In fact, it solves the primary issue: I can’t afford to ‘optimise’ (tweak, fiddle, poke, prod, push, tap) until I’ve got the fundamentals laid out.
There’s a solution for you – limit the scope of any project, before you commit to too much, so that you are forced to really assess what must be in there and what would be nice, and what amounts to wood pulp.
The Adaptation – Part 1 animation is now up on YouTube!
A few of the posts regarding the scenes and whatnot didn’t make it, pardon my user error. They’re there, they just haven’t been ‘published’, most notably the ‘thermal’ imagery of Lucas’ sniper scope and the crabman at the firestation.
Anyway, that’s a minor thing. Right now I’m winding down after doing the rendering and re-rendering and tweaking and syncing and, yeah, I’m spent.
Being an indie doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. Sure, it feels like it, and, in many cases, everything that ‘happens’ is a direct result of you, but there are times when you need to ask for help and, importantly, accept help offered.
One of the biggest areas of improvement that came out of the animation for The Bullet was the sound and the music.
I am avoiding using sound effects in this trailer, not because I’m scared of them or anything, but they don’t really apply. So that mitigates that side of things. As for the music, well, I think it’s hard to go wrong with Midi.
In my previous posts I’ve written about using Anvil Studio, getting the tune laid down, adding in bass and beats, then crying as I discovered just how utterly awful the standard Windows Midi Renderer is.
Virtual Midi Synth coupled with downloadable SoundFonts eases the pain: drums sound like drums. The honky-tonk piano sounds like a honky-tonk. But there’s still more that can be done.
That’s who. He’s a music fiend. He’s a DJ. He’s all about making stuff sound shmick. Go to soundcloud, have a listen. I’ll wait right here.
So here’s me dabbling with a one minute score, like a child stoked that he made a bridge out of Lego, and there’s CRX building monolithic skyscrapers with cranes and pre-fabricated concrete slabs: “Hey, uh… any chance you could take a listen and help a brother out?”
And this is just one of the fantastic things about MIDI – “Hey, I got a band together to record a minute long score and we practiced all week to get this recording… We can re-write, and I’ll get the band back together in a few weeks and we’ll rehearse for another week and then you can listen and we’ll repeat the process. Can you help me out?”
“Here’s the MIDI file, here’s a wav of the current rendering. If you can tweak the notes and give me some pointers, that’d be grand. Can you help me out?”
I know which one I’d prefer.
To give you an idea, I’m going to include the initial tune with Windows General Midi Rendering, then with the Fluid soundfont, then… the score as it has been CRXified (coined that term just then). It’ll have to be a drop box or google drive thing. You know what? Just ask and I’ll post some links in the comments.
Anyway, all thanks to CRX and his amazing skillz at the deck, I’ve now got a score that outclasses any animation that I could dredge up. Kind of like dressing a chimp in a tuxedo.
Guess that means I’m to work harder on the animation.
November? Is it really November? Yes, it is. That means it’s almost Christmas, and that means that the Software Development Cycle is preparing for end of year, and THAT means a bit of a scramble to get the bleeders tied off before we hibernate for the New Year’s break.
So… what does that all mean?
What it all means
Like exercise, if you only ever train your biceps, you’ll wind up with sore biceps and flabby everything else. A change of pace is a prime opportunity to have a change of creative outlet, so I am, once again, putting the writing on hold (well, a slow down. A couple of a pages a day, max) to work on some other pursuits.
Since The Bullet got some love with its own animation, I’ve been meaning to take the lessons learnt and apply to them to another animation. Atlas, Broken would be too hard, and while Grosvenor Lane would do well with dark silhouettes and spooky music (I’m counter-convincing myself now… damn), Adaptation needs to get some attention.
Why an animation? Books don’t get read unless you can attract a pair of eyes to look at them. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, as an indie author, you are responsible for getting your book seen. How you do that is up to you (just maintain your integrity. And your dignity while you’re at it.), and an online animation is just one way.
So I’ve gotten myself kitted out with my tools once more:
A pencil and paper for sketches and planning
Gimp to handle importing and cleaning my sketches up
Inkscape for converting things to Vector graphics
Synfig to animate the whole show
Anvil Studio to create a Midi Track
Virtual MidiSynth and Soundfonts to give richer sound
Audacity for any vocals, sound effects, etc.
Window Movie Maker to plop the bits together and convert the final product to be presented on YouTube
With more of a physical, as opposed to a metaphysical story, to work with, the animation called for more ‘scenes’. My first thought was to make everything from the point of view of Ottavio or Ryan, but then I thought, no, the book isn’t about them, it’s about the world that they are in.
So I scrapped that idea and took a different approach: The promotional video is there not to tell the story, rather it tells the viewer about the story. It’s a front cover on steroids. Its a blurb that gets shown. It’s a chance to see the bits of the book that lets the reader know that the book is right for them.
And so I looked at my options: I could play out a pivotal scene from the book. That sounded good, until I realised that no particular scene defines the intention of the book. Sure, it’d be easier given that I’d only have to make one set of drawings or scenes, but I’m not after easy, here, I’m after something I can look at and think, “Yeah. Happy with that.”
I then thought, “Why not a voice-over reading out the blurb”. No. No. No. I mean, that’s fine, soundwise, but a video wants some video. And it would be akin to a powerpoint presentation where the presenter reads out the dot points that the viewer can read for themselves. No.
So then I thought about movies, video games and television shows, and how they tended to present their entertainment: Snippets. Stills. Short clips of stuff. It gives a general feel of what it’s about, a couple of poignant comments or quotes, but it doesn’t hit the user over the head with information.
And that’s where I’m headed. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about the creative process, and I’ll share some of the drawings and music as I’m going along. The last post on animation was done retrospectively, whereas this will be a ‘work in progress’ one.
I’ll have to interrupt the whole egg blowing business for a quick revert to writing and, more specifically, promotional advertising. Yes, if you’re an independent writer, heck, independent artist, you’re going it alone in everything, and that includes telling the world what you’ve got.
Everyone says, “Facebook is the key” and that’s fine and fair enough if you want to tell your friends (and if you have an account), but what about those you don’t know. You know, your actualaudience?
In short, in order to spread the word, you need to be able to catch the eye or the ear of your future readers. Short of standing in the middle of the city handing out free copies or shouting from a megaphone, there are other established avenues you can choose.
That got me thinking: It’s one thing to have a book review, it’s another to have someone read it out for others to hear.
I listened and realised that the reason I turned off the radio at home was because it’s all mainstream, heard-it-before stuff. Nothing inspired, all glitz and glam and boring. Not with the Blitz. Bam! First song I heard, I thought, “Hey, this is kind of cool…”
Turns out it’s really good to code to, as well.
So where better to test out a promotion than with a station that actively promotes indies?
Hence, a big thank you to Tom Slick and the crew at The Blitz for the opportunity. Needless to say, I’m well chuffed with the result! Head on over and support independent artists from around the world.
If you want, have a listen to the Tuesday, 28th October show. The spiel for Atlas, Broken is at around about an hour into the show, or you can listen at YouTube:
Here you go!
All you indie authors out there, get on your megaphone.
To celebrate the imminent arrival of Hampton Court Ghost on the 27th of September (only a couple of days now!), Grosvenor Lane Ghost, the first in the Paranormology series has been made free.
So what does that mean for you? It means a trilogy for less than the price of a coffee. It means $2 for 3 books! Now that’s a sweet deal. It means you can finish off Grosvenor Lane and Beaumaris Road and be primed for Hampton Court Ghost.
If you’re into Victorian era narration, scientific methodology and real world morals, then get stuck into the Paranormology series. While I think Hampton Court is the best one yet, it won’t be as fun without the first two, and by starting with Grosvenor, you can grow with the protagonist.
The book is free at Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iTunes, and everywhere else on the internet. However Amazon, because of their rigid pricing and marketing strategy, still hold it at a dollar. You can request a price matching (and match it to free) by clicking the ‘tell us about a lower price’:
at the bottom and roughly inserting any of the aforementioned links into the dialog with my blessing. And if you could do the same for Atlas, Broken and Adaptation Part 1, I’ll be very grateful indeed.
Let me go back to where these updated began: As an independent author, it is up to me to organise any form of marketing or promoting of my books. To this end, I embarked on an adventure – Yes, I’ll go as far as to call it an adventure – to create an animation about The Bullet. Let’s see how this came together.
The Pieces of the Puzzle
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Here is a rough chronological list of my tasks:
I considered what I was after. I made a plan, sketched out my ideas into scenes, refined these down to what was I considered was doable, selecting five main sections.
I researched software that was available for sketching, vector drawing and animations and downloaded Inkscape for creating the vector graphics, Synfig for animation and Gimp for image manipulation.
I sketched out my characters faces and brought these into a digital format, converting them to vector graphics.
Using Synfig, I created my scenes, one by one, according to my original design.
I recorded a bunch of sounds on my phone, uploaded these to the machine and edited the soundwaves with Audacity, and hunted down a gunshot for the climax.
With the aid of Anvil, I wrote the musical track.
I used VirtualMIDISynth and the “Fluid GM” Midi Soundfont to get a richer sound
I exported the music from Anvil and blended this as a separate track together with the sound effects in Audacity.
I rendered the animation from Synfig to a movie file.
Lastly, using Microsoft’s Movie Maker, I added the audio to the video and exported the whole shebam to a YouTube ready file and uploaded it.
The end result is a one minute and twenty second clip that I’m pretty chuffed with:
Sure, it’s not refined, it’s not going to win any medals. If I get to do it again, if I ever have time, there will be several things I’d concentrate on.
In the programming world, we use retrospectives or post-mortems to see what went wrong, what went right and what can be done better. Forgive me if I cannot resist giving the animation the same treatment.
The first issue that jumps at me is the lack of sophisticated motion. It was suitable for what it needed to be, and that’s fine, but as I think about how I might create other animations, I figure there will be more ‘going on’. Background motion, moving lips with synchronised speech, blinking eyes, torsos turning, limbs flailing. While too much can be distracting, too little can be boring.
The music I enjoyed. A lot. Creating it piece by piece, getting the soundfonts, discovering reverb and chorus (albeit too late to apply it) and adding tracks as layers was just fun. Pure and simple. I reckon I could lose hours just knocking out tunes and mucking about with rhythms.
Then comes the sound. That was a headache. It was the opposite of fun. It doesn’t matter how I look at it, it just didn’t sound ‘right’. I guess I just don’t have the skillset or the proper equipment for sound engineering, so I’d probably ask for help, or try and find someone to hire.
Likewise with voice-overs. I think a voice-over would have been great. Again, lousy recording equipment and an even lousier voice let me down, to the point where I omitted the voice-over altogether. For this I’d definitely hire someone with a voice appropriate for the context.
Lastly, I think the sketching and vectorising the characters worked out just fine, only I’d spend more time getting details and layers so as to add more dimension to them. And I’d really like to try the ‘bones’ feature out in Synfig and get some complex motion happening. Oh, for another lifetime!
In any case, I’ll call it a wrap. I’ve got to get back to writing, so I bid a fond farewell to the Land of Animation – for now. I’ve got my little bag of tricks for next time, and I hope to share with you my next foray when I get a bit of breathing space between titles.
If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I started off this whole animation project with defining a bunch of scenes I wanted to render, converted some sketches into vectors and I figured out how to make stuff move.
By putting in a background and having layers for your characters, you could very easily knock up a South Park looking animation, or even a smooth transitioning storyboard, depending on what you’re after. If you’re after motion of parts of your characters, eyes, for example, or mouths, you’ll need to get into some of the finer points.
The scenes for The Bullet did not call for a lot of motion, contrary to what the subject matter might suggest. As I was getting through it, though, I figured I wanted a bit more realism with my characters, the Worker and the Assassin especially. The eyes of the Worker were quite important since, if the Bullet went under his gaze and his eyes did not move, it would destroy the notion that the Bullet was being scrutinised.
Having already labeled the layers that held the eyes, it was easy enough to identify them. Had I known about canvases (http://wiki.synfig.org/wiki/Canvas) before I started this, I would have used this to make the eyes group on an independent time frame. Not to worry, got there in the end and the concept is still the same.
I started the eyes pointing off to right (viewing the previous bullet), swiveled them back sharply and had them smoothly roll in time with the viewpoint of the Bullet before snapping back again, ready to inspect the next bullet. I toyed with TCB and the Constant waypoints, but neither gave the impression of what might constitute real eye motion, while Linear seemed far too unnatural. Clamp turned out to be the best first for the task, although I think the flyback should have been a little faster. If I were to do it again, I’d consider some jerkiness and random motions of the eye. When a person is looking at something closely, the eye will make many microscopic adjustments as it scans the intricate details of the subject. Lesson learnt.
The worker was going to be smoking a cigarette originally, but, as one might imagine, cigarettes and gunpowder don’t mix. In the end, I pulled the stick out of his mouth. It didn’t belong and it detracted from the enormous, distorted eyeballs.
Speaking of eyeballs, the Assassin, coming in at the end of the rifle run, needed to have a bit more life to him. I wound up giving him a goatee beard, shaggier hair and sinister eyes.
His mouth starts off flat, almost grumpy, but it turns to a smile as he approaches. How? Select the mouth layer and simply move the mouth to where you want it to be at a certain time, and let the animation engine do the rest. Curling up the edges of the mouth, I found, was not a very effective way to bring life to a character. It was just too subtle and was lost in the motion of the whole head as it zoomed and rotated.
Upping the extent of the smile didn’t cut it. Exaggerating the mouth motion looked too, well, exaggerated. And, besides, the smile was for the Assassin, no one else, and needed to be almost imperceptible. Instead, I got him to blink.
Blinking involves the covering of an eyeball with the eyelid. Again, since I had labeled my layer previously, it was only a matter of finding it on the right hand layer panel, clicking the little red man to begin animating, grabbing the waypoints and closing them together, then opening them up again.
Now, a normal, natural blink is very fast indeed. A Step / Constant waypoint certainly looked like a blink, but, at only a single frame, the animation was just too flashy. Instead, I used a Clamp to animate in and out, but over only a few frame. The result is that the eyelid closes rapidly, but not so rapidly that it’s lost on the viewer.
If anything, it’s slow enough to give the Assassin the air of being cool, calm and calculating, which is exactly what I was after.
Without the use of thick lines to define my characters’ features, or any form of cross-hatching or shading, I had to rely on the slabs of colour of the regions. Not terrible. Not great. You don’t get a lot of depth out of it. Or mood. Or ambiance. This is where gradients can help.
Taking the worker scene, it looked far to bright and airy, not at all like the confused, claustrophobic world into which the Bullet was born. To bring the focus back onto the worker, and provide a narrowness of view, I used a radial gradient over the top of the worker group, running from transparent to a dark red on the edges.
The radius of this layer, like pretty much everything else, can be animated. This way, the field of view grows and shrinks as the Bullet travels along, obscuring the image. I did apply a fish-eye, or sphere distortion, which added to the confusion, but I pulled it: It was just becoming too confused.
To aid the idea that the Worker was near a furnace or a boiler, I applied a linear gradient, which I labeled ‘Heat Flare’ across his face to give it a rosy hue. I did something similar in the next scene, the Metamorphosis, to have the Bullet move from a hot red area to a cooler grey one, animating the endpoints and colours of the gradient as the scene progressed.
Lastly, I had to decide between voice-overs or text. I have a microphone on my webcam, and another that I can plug in the back of the box. Neither, I discovered, were suitable for recording clean, crisp voice. In fact, I think I’ll have to get onto the whole sound portion of this clip in another post. In any case, I decided upon text to display contextual snippets.
To do this, simply add in a Text Layer. Type in the text as the ‘value’ and, Presto! You have words. I imagine one might want to animate words in or out, or type one letter at a time, but I went for a simple fade in / fade out option.
Changing the font is a tricky matter, though. You need to know the name of the font that you’re after. I opened up Open Office and scrolled through the fonts I was after, but the Windows Font Viewer will do the job. Put the name, verbatim, into the font family field and that’ll do the trick.
Because fonts behave like vectors, they’ll scale and rotate very nicely without all the pixelation.
Can you add a gradient to your text? Of course! Can you use your text to define the alpha channel of an underlying layer? Definitely (and how cool would that look?). The only real issue I found with text is that the rendering gets a bit jumpy if you try to animate the size. Maybe non-integer values aren’t suitable for the rendering engine, but I’d only be guessing. Everything else is fair game.
But an animation isn’t all just visual. In my next updates I’ll go over the music and sound.