When real life overtakes you

Well, this month in Falling's alternate reality, a fire badly damages Shanghai's Jin Mao tower and kills several hundred people inside.

Several points in the story mention various natural and industrial disasters in relation to the Sydney Harbour Bridge collapsing. Among them are the 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami across the Indian Ocean, the 2011 earthquake and tsunamis that struck the coasts of Japan in 2011 and several fictional disasters I made up.

One was a huge earthquake in the Mediterranean Sea that causes killer tsunamis across the coast of North Africa in 2027, but much closer to us temporally is a devastating fire that breaks out in the iconic Shanghai office and residential tower.

I wanted to finish and publish Falling long before I eventually did – my original hope was to have it available just after Christmas 2017 – and the reason is because I wanted it to be out in the cultural firmament before the actual bridge collapses in the world of the story in October 2019.

The end of 2017 was in fact originally supposed to give it a year before the collapse. The last very minor rewrite that luckily didn't break the timeline completely was to move the date of the disaster forward by one year to give me more time between the publication and the fictional event. In other drafts since I embarked on the last major rewrite (the LMR) it happens in 2018, which seemed so far in the future back when I started not just writing it but rewriting it.

Of similar but lesser importance was to have Falling out in the world before the Jin Mao fire, only because to read about a deadly disaster in a story built to give you thrills and chills a few months before it's due to happen has more dramatic urgency than it already having happened. If it's over, all that does is remind you you're reading about a fictional universe where the stuff in it is made up.

I'm still a little bit worried it'll take too long for Falling to make any impact and the date of the bridge collapsing will come and go (okay, I'm a lot worried). But to change it now and move everything forward three or five more years would require another major rejiggering of times, dates, days and events, and frankly by the time I finished doing that I'd have to do it all over again because I'd be on top of the date of the disaster once more.

I'd have to make it ten years hence, which would change a lot of the technology and historical backdrop and mean an ever more in depth rewrite, and so on...

All of which is a way of asking you to forgive me for published Falling so close to the events depicted and not giving you enough time to wonder what it might be like if it actually happened.

Give it away and make a fortune

In the last Falling blog post I promised to talk about the economics of publishing a successful book/becoming a successful author. A lot of it involves giving something away for free, which sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me...

A lot of the people I've seen who publish books duly send their website address along to a few casual acquaintances and then kind of sit back, mentioning it every now and then but mostly hoping for a fairy to wave a magic wand and turn their book into a success by some kind of social biochemistry.

It might have been a fair enough strategy a few decades ago but the ebooks era has wrought several negative changes.

First, you're not just competing with the proverbial Stephen Kings, J K Rowlings and other popular and established authors, you're competing against everyone who's ever been disciplined enough to 'think they have a book in them' and actually write it down but ignore all the work that contributes to a decent reading experience after that (re-writing that's done so carefully and so much it becomes tedious, decent cover design, etc).

I don't mean to disparage all the self-published authors the digital revolution has enabled, but you don't need me to tell you there are some grotesqueries out there, both within ebooks covers and on them...

Second, unless you are Stephen King and J K Rowling books really aren't a thing any more. We're more time-poor in this day and age than we ever have been, which partly explains why YA is so successful (ie because only kids and teenagers have time to read).

And even if we weren't, as a Gen Xer TV, the occasional movie and later home video were the only other media encroaching on my potential reading time when I was a kid. Generations since have had countless other ways to entertain themselves that are much more immersive and immediate and so much less work than books it's a wonder even King and Rowling can make a living anymore.

All of which gives any book release – including those from major publishers with all the resources the industry of today can muster behind them – an almost-insurmountable wall to climb unless it's by an author with a household name.

I believe that means your only chance is to get boosts from influencers of some sort. Having someone else with a platform talk about your book is the second best advertising you can get. The first, as anyone who works in marketing will tell you, is word of mouth.

Both of those principles mean getting Falling into as many hands as possible for free* is priority number one. If people like it, they'll talk about it. Average people on the street who like it will tell like-minded friends and you'll build your fanbase one reader at a time. And at the same time, if someone who's famous – or who knows people – likes it and talks about it, there's a big boost.

And at some stage when you hit some magic point, any following you get will build on and drive itself. How may of us eventually gave in and read The Da Vinci Code or went and saw Avatar simply because it's what everybody was talking about? Success breeds success.

People will start talking about and reading your book without you prompting them to because they'll hear about it from the cultural firmament. They'll look for it. They'll pay for it. Someone will put it on torrent sites and you'll miss out on sales as a result, but any artist should consider themselves lucky their work is sought-after enough for people to want to pirate it.

And if you get that big and popular, is it really going to hurt that much? For every illegal copy of The Shining someone downloads, Stephen King still makes a very comfortable living (every time they make or remake a movie based on his books, which Hollywood's again in the thrall of as I write these words, someone sends him another big fat cheque). For every torrented copy of a Star Wars or Marvel movie, they're still among the movies with the top five box office grosses of all time.

One last point. You might have noticed I talk about movies a lot in order to reference something cultural in relation to Falling. It's partly because movies are something we all know, and that's kind of the point – we don't all know what blockbuster books are out because blockbuster books don't make half the dent on pop culture movies do.

A lot of writers, when they're blogging or talking about their books, make jokes about their work being turned into movies or TV series you're supposed to think are throwaway or offhand. Don't believe an ounce of it – we'd nearly sell our souls for a Hollywood producer or studio to option our book and turn it into a movie or Netflix series.

Look at The Girl on the Train, A Wrinkle in Time, Crazy Rich Asians, Annihilation, Harry Potter and Ready Player One. In the latter two cases they had huge followings that were enough to make their authors fabulously successful both creatively and critically without movie tie-in lucre, but the rest were 'merely' New York Times bestsellers, which as I've tried to establish above isn't enough to make them household names. They only became so when they were adapted into movies, with all the attendant marketing advantages that offers.

In fact, although I don't know the economics involved without seeing Ernie Cline or Kevin Kwan's tax returns, I'd bet a large chunk of income for a name brand author is from studios buying rights and/or residuals. Stephen King is in a new phase of having semi-trailers full of Hollywood money backing up to his door to make new movies of all his books as we speak, just like he did throughout the 80s.

All of which means that while I can't speak for every other author out there, I'd be lying if I didn't say publishing Falling was partly an advertisement directed at movie and TV people.

All any author needs is a reader or fan who knows someone (or is someone, and because of my day job I know some of those someones), and suddenly a global movie release or event series on a streaming service is doing more effective advertising than you ever could on your own, hopefully being big and beloved enough to send flocks of readers to Amazon to buy your book in enough numbers that you can pay your mortgage off.

 

* Yes, free. It doesn't mater how cheap something is – and at US$2.99 I couldn't possibly have priced Falling any lower without it affecting assumptions about the quality.

If I sent it to 100 people and asked them to pay for it, maybe one would. As it is, I'll probably only get one out of every 100 to even look at or read it even though I've sent it to them for free, so I have to send it to a *lot* of people and potential influencers before it'll get any traction.

In fact, if you're reading these words and have looked at the rest of the website and think you might fancy Falling, let me know and I'll send it to you for free too.

When marketing pays off

Well some of my marketing efforts have paid off, one of them in a bigger way than I could have dreamed this early in the process.

The first one came out of an old outlet of mine. 100 years ago I used to write for a magazine called Bookseller and Publisher that (as the name suggests) was all about the books industry. Everyone who'd ever commissioned me for stories there was long gone, but the publisher was still around.

I duly hit him up offering him a copy and/or review, and to be completely honest he was a little bit dismissive (though you can never assume intent through an email without all the other cues we normally get in conversation), saying they only do reviews of books provided well in advance of the release.

It wasn't the only time that had tripped me up, either. I emailed a guy who used to be at one of the publishers and started his own marketing and publicity firm for authors and asked him what he thought he could do for me if anything, and he likewise said he doesn't take on a project unless it's at least a few months away from release. I can understand it, to be fair - they want time to actually get to know the material and stoke a bit of interest about it before it comes out.

But the guy at Bookseller and Publisher did refer me to another guy I'd never worked with who runs a books newsletter for the magazine, and he offered to do an interview with me about Falling, which he ran a few weeks later (and in an example of being prepared, I was able to use a lot of what I'd already written in the purpose-built interview from the media kit).

Another bump I got was from Moviehole, another longtime outlet. The editor Clint is an awesome guy who has always run basically everything I've wanted to write for him. It's not for any money, but in my other career as a freelance entertainment journalist there's no price I can put on the doors it's opened, free movies it's got me into, interviews it's landed and more.

Anyway, as soon as Falling was available I asked him if he'd run a post about it, which he was happy to do. It didn't happen exactly that way, he's a very busy dude and I think he only partially maintains the site these days along with his agency and PR business, but eventually we settled on me writing a bit for the newsletter with a write-up and the link to the book for all the readers.

I don't know how many people get that newsletter but the site gets traffic in the several dozens of thousands so it must have reached a few eyeballs...

But the biggest news was the review I got in the Daily Telegraph, the Rupert Murdoch rag that's dominated Sydney's printed news landscape for a century and a half. I've written one or two celebrity stories for a lovely editor there (Jeni O'Dowd) and she was among the list of 'anyone I've ever dealt with about anything ever' I contacted when it was ready and published, figuring you never know where it might lead.

She was excited and congratulatory and said she might even be able to review the book in her section (BW, in the Saturday paper), but I didn't think too much more about it. So imagine my surprise and delight a few weeks later when she said it was running that weekend. She sent me a PDF the week following which I present here for your entertainment and amusement.

But the big news is after all that publicity and media action I've now sold...

One copy.

And look, if I'd got into this for the money I might be depressed about that. But at this stage it's all about attention and a following rather than return on investment. If I expected to get money back to represent all the hours I've put into this project over the decades, I'd have enough to buy every house in my street.

But the other big advantage the Tele review gives me is a quote for all the marketing, particularly the front page of the website. The line 'a horror fiction for the 21st century' on the main page graphic was put there intended to be changed when I got a credible quote for the cover and testimonial page of the website and media kit (still to come, pending actual testimonials).

I also get to put it in the descriptions on the various ebooks services, in the email sending it to people, and everywhere else I can think of.

In the next post I'll explain why I think attention is more important than money. It's not that I'm a fame whore, there's economic sense behind it...

Going Hard (cont)

The last few weeks have been all about the paperback. Despite what they tell you about how easy print on demand is (I mean, I'm not sure anyone's ever told you that, but there's certainly a perception that producing a book over the internet can be done in just a couple of clicks), but it would have been a very stop/start – and expensive – process without having the design and typesetting ability to do it myself.

It's all taken about 10 emails to the Kindle Publishing Direct support address, re-uploading the cover a handful of times and the main text at least a dozen times since the last post.

The first problem was the cover. I hadn't realised you could design the entire cover front and back and upload it for your Kindle paperback copy, and I feel a bit stupid about that - the back cover is almost as important as the front, but I had this idea in my head they'd have some sort of standard template you couldn't alter.

It started because after uploading the front cover their system plonked their ugly barcode around from the spine to the front, completely wrecking the contrast and balance of the design. So I asked if they could put the barcode on the back cover, which they could, confirming that you can upload the cover as one file, including the front and back covers and the spine.

So I had to get pretty specific specs for the measurement of the spine, which depended on the number of pages, which changed as I tried to wrangle the margins inside. To begin with I'd referenced a couple of other paperbacks and set the outside margins and gutters where I thought they'd be easiest to handle for a reader flicking through.

But when I uploaded it their previewer (a pretty handy little tool that gives you a proof of the whole thing and does a preflight at the same time) rejected it because their margins are so strict. I had to move the gutter further away from the centre, which moved the text box on each page closer to the outside than I was comfortable with – the last thing you want is your thumb covering bits of text while you're holding onto it trying to read.

So that of course meant that if I wanted a decent bit of distance from the edge of the page to the outside margin of each text box I had to make the text box on every page slightly thinner, which made all the text reflow and made it longer, and since it was already at their maximum page count (775) it was then too long, etc etc...

I'd already inserted hard returns to wrap text to the next page to stop chapter headings appearing at the bottom of pages with nothing under them, changed tracking on paragraphs to fix widows and orphans and any number of other adjustments, and changing the text box width across the whole document blew all that out, so when I had the margins where I wanted them (and were Amazon's system allowed, which meant another export and upload to their previewer) I had to go right through all 770-something pages and check for pagination issues all over again.

I got it all perfect, ran another PDF, uploaded it, ran it through their preview tool again and... would you believe it, it rejected about eight pages where the text still fell outside the margins because the x height of some italic characters like 'f' and 't' overhangs the edge of the text box in InDesign by about one millimetre!

So I had to go back through, pull the text boxes on just those pages back by a single millimetre, then deal with any tracking or wrapping issues that changed the flow onto the next page (otherwise I'd have to paginate the whole thing again on from those pages), upload it, run the previewer again to make sure that page was okay, and go through that whole process for every page that had showed an error.

And of course, that entire process played havoc with the page count, because when I included all the deleted scenes it went over their maximum page count. As it was I had to delete a couple of them to come in under, so the first hard copy of Falling will go down in history as not having the complete set of deleted scenes.

I wonder if, decades in the future, film nerds will know that just like we now know editor Richard Chew constructed the shot of the Tusken Raider threatening Luke after it attacked him by running the film backwards and then forwards again, resulting in it shaking its staff up and down angrily.

It was a bit irritating, but I also had to admit to myself that I quite enjoyed it. It took me back to my designer days of dealing with font sizes, text box sizes, text wrapping between boxes and all that fun stuff. I stayed up really late one night with music playing, dealing with it all just like a real graphic designer at an ad agency or book publisher.

Anyway, I finally uploaded it with all the problems solved, or so I thought. The previewer gave me some weird error about there being blank pages in the middle, which there aren't, so I've gone back to the support email once more.

But the real shock! horror! news is that while I was going through the text for the umpteenth time looking for pagination issues I just happened to spot another typo – a 'what' that should have been a 'that'. I now have to change it in every version there is, both the original .doc file, the epubs and mobi version for sale on Smashwords, Amazon and Apple, the online review copy, etc.

It further goes to prove what authors always tell you about getting editors or proofreaders. I've been over this manuscript more times than it would have received if I'd paid six professional editors and proofreaders to look at it, and there are still f%$king mistakes in i

Going Hard

So, much earlier than I expected to, I'm making Falling a hard copy paperback. The inciting incident was the editor of The Australian I talked about in the last post, which I was surprised about because I remember very well from my days writing about books for newspaper arts sections that they tend to be pretty snooty about self-published projects (and with good reason – have you seen many self published books?).

So at the prospect of having a review in a national newspaper, it was time to make a hard copy. Amazon makes it fairly easy to assemble and produce a paperback version of your book and I looked at a couple of other POD services, but for better or worse there's really no competition – I can get a single copy one at a time from the Kindle store for about US$10.

As any graphic designer knows, one of the most expensive and time consuming parts of any book publishing project is presenting the actual text rather than making it look like someone uploaded a file straight from Microsoft Word, which most self publishing projects seem to be.

So it was actually quite enjoyable to revisit all the old tricks in InDesign for making an entire book for a week or so, although I'm enbarrassed to say it's been so long I had to look plenty of them up online. I did a more print-friendly publishing details page, assigned a new ISBN, did a style for all the chapter headings, had to resave all the section graphics in high res, etc.

After a few whip throughs to check there were no errant widows or orhpans and I hadn't missed applying the style to any chapter headings (which I had), all you have to do is upload a PDF of the whole thing and a separate PDF of the cover to the Kndle account and you're away.

The only potential snag is their system automatically puts a barcode on it and wraps it from the front to the back across the spine, which looks ugly as a hatful of proverbial. And there's no provision I can see to design the back cover or spine, which will be considerable on a printed copy of Falling – the final page count is 774. But their tech support email help has been very responsive to my other questions so I've fired off another query to ask.

The other upside is that you have your paperback copy ready for when you want to make it available for public sale - if you want a review or proof copy you just order it from that same assembly.

At first I thought I'd just get proof copies to send to reviewers, but as it's all the same process I asked myself why not make it available for sale in paperback at the same time? The retail price is only going to be US$17, and at the very least I'll be able to order one myself and have something I've been dreaming about since I was 13 – a book on my shelf written by me with my name on it.

Reviews (or not)

Well it's not the Bram Stoker or Hugo award, but I have been featured in the Australian Self Publisher newsletter at https://australianselfpublisher.com/newsletter/selfpublisher/

It came about because I'd got in touch with an old, old client, Bookseller and Publisher Magazine, about having Falling reviewed in their pages. The publisher, who I met once but never worked with (all the original editorial people I knew have long gone) said they couldn't because it had already been published, but that he'd give my name to the guy who runs the self publisher newsletter they have.

Speaking of reviews, I emailed the literary editor at The Australian newspaper, a guy called Stephen Romei. He's one of those people on my list to contact about Falling who was mentally filed under 'will probably never reply and mostly a waste of time', because my working relationship with him didn't end very well. Not that there was any acrimony, but he gave me a pretty scathing critique of the last review I did for him and said if I wanted to keep writing for him I had to get better (more or less).

I pitched him a few more times and never heard back, so assumed by the time he'd sent it he'd already subconsciously written me off.

Anyway when I sent him all the info on Falling he wrote straight back asking if it was a hard copy or only an ebook, making he think if it was in book form he'd review it. Turns out if I can produce one he'll send it to his reviewer, so it's time to log in to the Kindle account and see about making some POD copies.

The Black Writing Dog

Doubt that your work is good enough for anyone or anything. Shouting into a void. Impostor syndrome.

They're very familiar to a freelance journalist, and novelists not only aren't immune, they probably get it worse, because they've poured everything they have onto those pages and the words on them represent their very soul.

After slaving over something you consider so important and being proud because you feel you got it perfectly right, you might get a quick email from your editor saying 'thanks' – sometimes not even that – and then your words and ideas go out into the world and disappear, giving you no indication of whether they ever have any impact on anyone.

I've barely started marketing Falling by trying to get it in the hands of people who can sing its praises to a wider audience, and (as the physics of celebrity always imposes), the bigger the name, the less likely they are to even read what I've written, let alone care about it or talk it up to anyone.

Many of them are writers or producers themselves, after all, and have their own projects they're trying to shill. They probably barely have time to read email. Who the hell's going to read a 260,000 page genre novel?

Fear of and certainty of failure are biting hard right now.

I know people who know people

If I haven't already said so, I don't consider that Falling will be any kind of success on its own merits, and people certainly aren't going to just 'find it'. I'm also not talking about the conventional wisdom that you build readership one person at a time by having a twitter account, contributing blog posts to websites about writers and fiction, etc.

I'm in a very fortunate position in that I have contacts with some people who have more power and reach than the average blogger or books page editor. People with real presences in the entertainment world who, if they really enjoy or even (gasp) fall in love with Falling, can make serious action happen, whether it's posting about it to their millions of followers, giving me a cover quote or having some powerful agent or director that they know read it.

There are a lot more of those people I'd like to know and send Falling to, and for them I at least know how to go about getting in touch with them. But that method means going through gatekeepers, and that's a whole layer you have to hack and thrash your way through like Indiana Jones through a jungle while they pretend their clients are delicate snowflakes who can't possibly be disturbed while they exercise their carefully scheduled genius (if and when you finally get through the thicket and reach them they're usually very friendly people just like you and I who are very happy someone's interested in their opinion).

But there's a smaller – though no less important – group of people who I actually know and have direct contact with without having to go through Geatapo-like publicists, handlers or representatives.

And approaching them is going to be a large part of the marketing effort behind Falling. Of the books and movie people I have details for and who will remember me when I email them (however vaguely - in some cases it's been a long time) are authors David Brin, Simon Winchester, Kim Stanley Robinson, screenwriter Zak Penn and so many production designers, art directors stunt people and other film artists I feel relatively confident I can get at least someone to read it.

The other upside now is that for the first time, Falling has actually been published. Most of these people won't touch an unpublished manuscript because of all the legal issues it can raise for them no matter how nice they are, but we're talking about a book already in stores (so to speak).

Of course, I'll also send it to all the books pages editors I've ever worked with or known as well, and trawling through my client files looking back on every story I've written over the last 20 years will turn up dozens of other ideas for contacts too.

Like I kept telling myself, marketing Falling is going to be as big a job as writing it was, and for a 272,000 word book three decades in the making, that's saying something.

Judging a book by...

A quick thought about covers. You've been told your whole life not to judge a book by its cover, but if you're the least bit interested in books as artistic artefacts you'll have read a thousand smarmy blog posts about how in fact yes, readers will completely judge a book by its cover because that's what we're wired to do – first impressions, creatures of visual acuity, yada yada...

I'm no expert and I'm sure it's a tricky thing to get right (in fact I know so, I've interviewed several very inspiring book designers in my day job as a journalist), but it surprises me how many books look good in and of themselves but don't seemed to be designed to stand out on either physical or virtual bookshelves.

I've only seen two great examples of that, one of which was just the other day. Keep in mind, we're not talking about great design per se, just design that stands out among a crowd. Maybe that's what we mean by 'great design' after all...

Anyway, years ago I was in a bookshop scanning the spines of books on a shelf. I always remember an old retail principle where a popular book was shelved front cover out for only a certain period (and only with a certain marketing push from the publisher and retailer), after which it was turned in so only the spine was visible. It's a bit ironic – after all the effort put into book covers, they're often only be visible for a little while, maybe not at all.

That's when I was greeted by this sight;

blog_spines.JPG

Maybe the one with the Star of David leaps out at you, but that might be because it's only one of two facing outwards. The other, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (great book, by the way) has a pretty arresting feature in that blood red cover with the bullet hole, but the one that absolutely slapped me in the face is that one to the left of it, in the middle of the third shelf.

In a sea of everything being nice and straight and perpendicular, that title and the name of the author at odd angles effortlessly drowns everything else out. It's a beautifully simple idea and though I wasn't interested in the book when I picked it up to read the blurb, that spine had already taken me 50 percent of the way towards buying it.

I've also been going to bookshops for the last week or two to research marketing ideas for Falling and had no intention of buying anything other than maybe a bookmark when this cover virtually shouted at me from across the shop.

blog_replay.jpg

It's got colour contrast, a very arresting sight in the city reflected perfectly, and the fact that it's standing on its side really grabs you, like the errant angles on the spine in the example above.

So of course I picked it up, and the fact that it's a sci-fi time travel story and has a cover quote by Ernest Cline (of Ready Player One fame) got it over the line – I parted with my $30 quite happily. It wasn't even until I tried to find the cover picture for this post that I realised it wasn't a new novel. Not only was it published in 1986, the guy who wrote it's been dead for years!

The qualities in both examples are things I tried to capture in the cover for Falling. If you haven't seen it elsewhere on this site or on the iBooks, Smashwords or Amazon page, here it is;

blog_fallingcover.jpg

No, it's not the most artistic book cover ever designed, and even when I was an actual graphic designer in a past life this kind of thing was never my forte, but the one thing I tried to keep in mind was 'what would this look like an inch high on a computer screen in various ebookshops?'

I figure/hope the large area of dark colour that contains the title contrasts with the large area of bright colour that contains the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and that's what draws your eye (maybe the splash of red against the black helps). That's not even the first impression, it's more of a pre-impression, because all you notice is a very hard block of solid colours that contradict/compliment each other.

When you zoom in a bit after that, you might recognise the Harbour Bridge or just notice that it's obviously a large road bridge. You might be intrigued by how mysterious and ethereal it looks with the sunlight streaming through ghostly mist in the foreground (it was actually a picture taken by a News Ltd photographer on a uncharacteristically foggy day in Sydney).

I hope that design thinking gets you 50 percent of the way there, enough to click on it and then, if you're a horror or sci-fi fan, the blurb and the other stuff can do its work.

In other news;

Since publishing properly and getting emails from the various ebook services that Falling has been accepted, the format is correct, etc, I've started to think about marketing. I've got a new document in the Falling folder on my laptop I think will get a lot of use - 'try.odt'. It's where I'm jotting down anyone and everyone I can think to send it to, tell about it, exercises and tasks to market it, etc.

So far I've sent it to friends, family and a couple of the professional networks I belong to, a few of whom said they'd download it and read it. So now, deep breath, onwards and upwards.




Made Up Words

I read something interesting through the week that struck me about the creation of Falling. It was a really interesting story about 'ideophones', the scientific term for words that sound or 'feel' like what they're indicating.

If you're the least bit interested in words, writing or human communication in general it's essential reading. It's about how words seem like what they're describing in a deeper way than plain onomatopoeia (ie 'zip', 'swoosh', etc).

A lot of ideophones can be found in other languages (Japanese is particularly rich with them) but they're common enough in English too, and the reason I love the concept is because I realised I'd made my own to communicate concepts in Falling. Not subconsciously, exactly, but without knowing what I was doing in a technical sense.

When I used the word 'whipstrike', for that sound you always hear in thrillers when the spies are climbing up the elevator shaft (it's found in Part 8 when the cables start to snap and let go during the climax), or the word 'chainwhip' to describe automatic weapon fire, I was trying to build a feeling for you to experience – the combination of sounds from a whip and striking metal, or whipping something with a length of chain, maybe.

In doing so I'd created my own ideophones. It might be cheating, but Shakespeare made up the words 'jaded', 'champion', 'submerge' and even 'skim milk' (if this website can be believed). Isn't creating moods through the communications of sounds and symbols exactly what language is all about? Making up words that do so is what writers do. If Falling achieves nothing else, at least it's done that...

EPUB and MOBI versions; not free.

A snag. Well, not really a snag, but a final hurdle I didn't know I'd come up against.

I thought converting a .doc file to .epub and .mobi was easy – there are so many free converters online, and I'd already done it half a dozen times to various versions to set links on the website and media kit, etc.

But when it came time to put one of them on a device to test... yeah, nah. If I'd thought a bit deeper beforehand I'd have realised that you get what you pay for out of anything online that's free...

But I've put a new job on Guru.com and am negotiating with what looks like some very capable people. I've got prices from professional conversion services online, and the whole thing looks like only being held up for a few days or a week while I decide who to use and get them onto it.

T-minus Publication Day

Since I last posted to this blog, Falling has entered (and emerged from) the most intensive period of activity it's probably seen since that first honeymoon phase rush of being in with the idea and starting the first draft.

I signed up properly with Squarespace and built the entire site – you're actually looking at the results of that right now, since I moved the blog across from where it was hosted in a Wordpress site.

That meant writing the bio, blurb and a marketing kit. Selecting, isolating and reformatting the sample chapter. Getting pictures of the cover and new bridge organised to feature and learning their system to create the whole thing (I highly recommend it - I've spent hours in online chats with the tech support people and they're great). I even got a brand new picture taken of myself for the media kit, because the pictures of me on various social media accounts are at least a decade old.

I set up and designed the Facebook and Twitter pages, thought long and hard about Instagram (and decided against it – it's just not my thing. Ask me again if this takes off and maybe I've employed a social media manager).

I had to go through the final stages of buying the cover image from the news service, which was around $1,000. That's on top of the $500 I spent on the harbour bridge shoot and the US$2,500 for digital art to redraw the new bridge.

One of the biggest jobs was formatting the entire manuscript. The original plan was just to do Amazon but then I thought I might as well try and do Apple iBooks and Smashwords to, and a bit of research revealed that you need a well formatted .doc or .pdf copy (you might for Amazon too and I'm yet to discover that – I've only set up the page so far).

That meant not only designing graphics to indicate the start of a new part in the book, I had to get all the publishing details together (including the ISBN, was was another purchase), insert the cover and new bridge pic, and then cut and paste the entire book into the one document in the right font and format, going right through to make a new page for each chapter and check everything.

And because I did that in Microsoft Word rather than my usual word processor of OpenOffice, it showed – to my horror – more spelling errors and typos because Word has that red and green underline which shows you the errors.

That meant scanning right through page by page watching like a hawk for red underlines, and I'm ashamed to admit I found three or four more in the entire 760 page document. God willing there are no more typographical or spelling errors in Falling.

Then, because the bonus features at the end of the book let you download and read the entire first draft if you like, I had to do the same for that.

I've printed out and proofread everything, got all the mechanical details in place, got all the imagery I need for marketing and presentation, and just this morning I finalised a hiccup I had with the ISBN. I'm actually downloading the photos of myself to the very laptop I'm writing this post on at this precise moment, so choosing and using one will be the last step.

I'm not sure how in-depth and time-consuming publishing on Smashwords and Apple are, but as I said the Amazon page is half done apart from some images, blurb and the actual files so that should be pretty quick.

That means that after starting this book in 1991 – 28 years ago as I write these words – the official publication might be any time in the next day or so.

Then (as I keep saying to myself, unless I've written it here), the real work starts.

Introducing the New Sydney Harbour Bridge

Let me introduce Joe Beckley, a digital artist with Laika, the movie production company that bought the world The Boxtrolls, Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings, Missing Link and more.

For the past month and a half or so he's taken this;

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to this;

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So let me also introduce The Macquarie Bennelong Bridge, which replaced the original Sydney Harbour Bridge after its destruction in late 2019.

I was referred to Beckley by Mike Terpstra, a guy I found my way to through industry contacts who also worked for Laika. As you can see from his website he's got some incredible work, and dealing with him to manipulate and Photoshop the bridge picture has been everything I dreamed it would be dealing with a designer and artist.

He did a version, I responded with changes, he addressed them exactly, I refined, he addressed them again (exactly), and this week after about seven or eight rounds like that I think it's completely finished.

He even did stuff that wasn't even in the original brief, so I can only assume he enjoyed the project as much as I enjoyed seeing it come together. I didn't realise until right at the end that the face at Luna Park and North Sydney Olympic pool were being obscured by the arch of the old bridge but would be completely visible behind the new one, for example, so they had to be literally drawn back in in their entirety.

I told him I'd do it if he provided the layered Photoshop file because I hadn't realised it needed doing, and he did it anyway. He's been a dream come true.

I now have to buy the cover image and ISBN, build the website (which I'm doing through Squarespace), put it online and then – after 29 years – the real work finally starts.

And even at this late stage, editorial tidbits keep coming up. I realised at some point that I'd still called the bridge Lachlan Macquarie somewhere, but knew very well I'd decided to change it to the Macquarie Bennelong Bridge. That made me realise I might not have named the highway on it properly either, so I had to search every document of the manuscript for 'macquarie', 'lachlan', 'bennelong' and 'port jackson' and make sure it was consistent.

I hope I'm down to errors nobody (including me, unless I'm lucky) would ever spot – maybe if someone does I'll tell everyone it was deliberate and they get a prize. If it becomes popular enough for people to be finding mistakes like that I'll be overjoyed anyway.

Not sci-fi anymore/Photos, finally!

First of all, an interesting content issue. When I started writing Falling in 1990, the idea that the technology would one day exist to reconnect the brain and the spine was complete science fiction. Now, medical science has already rendered my clunky abdominal brace redundant, not only are scientists able to get the nerves between the spine and the disconnected lower half of the body in disabled people talking again, they can do it with a small implant.

In other news, I've finally had the photography of the bridge and city done. Next step is to select an artist to draw in the new bridge, and I've narrowed it down to one of two, I'm just waiting for a price from the slightly less-interested sounding one.

I'm excited for how it'll turn out, I think I'm going to go with one of these;

Text is sure easier to wrangle than pictures

Well I still haven't pinned down a digital artist to do the new bridge picture. I got a few quotes from some VFX and digital studios in the US and even though the people who quoted were all very nice they were out of my current price range. I did have the idea of taking it to the education sector, figuring I'd get out of it cheaper and some student would have something cool for their portfolio, but that came to nothing.

An email to the head of design at Enmore TAFE went ignored, as did a request to Billy Blue, an advertising school in Sydney that actually had a page on their website inviting requests for industry collaboration. Maybe it's the universe telling me not to be the kind of client I've hated throughout my creative career – trying to get something for free that has real economic value to someone...

But I have at least settled on a photography provider for the Photoshopping of the bridge. I thought a drone would be cheaper, but the company I've settled on in Sydney is going to use a helicopter because of the high angle I need and it'll be the same price. I'm waiting for a call back from them so that should happen soon.

I also started the Amazon listing page, which is exciting. I also think I've settled on a logo and cover after doing a lot of work on it myself. What I have so far is still growing on me, but I've got plenty of time the way everything else is going. Another hurdle is that I knew full well I'd have to pay for the picture from the news organisation, but that turned out to be about $1,000. It's going to cost $2,100 for the photography and very high end digital art is likely to cost a few thousand, so I have to cut the cost somewhere.

(My other half even suggested I do the Photoshop work myself. I could certainly give it a crack, I'm just not convinced I'd do as well as the people whose work ends up on TV and movie screens.)

I've also done more writing just today, putting together the website copy and media kit copy. It's actually been quite fun - I've already done three blurbs of different lengths for different purposes (the Amazon listing, the inside flaps of the hardcover dust jacket when it exists, etc), so have adapted them for synopses, written a few different bios, etc. I've even done an author interview of the sort you sometimes see in the back of books.

It's also a bit tricky because in the interests of branding integrity a lot of the information is almost – if not completely – the same (I've replicated synopses for the media kit and the site). That means I have to stay on top of where each element of the marketing appears so if I change something I remember to change it everywhere else.

Anyway, doing all this new writing has made me realise how much there still is ahead of me. I need a decent author pic of myself, the covers and the other photography for use in the media, I need to set up graphics for the Twitter page, I need to set up a Facebook page even though I know little to nothing about Facebook. I need to decide whether to get Instagram even though I've never used it. The list keeps growing.

And I certainly need testimonials, a good one (if I get one) of which will be quite prominent on the website and marketing. That means I need to send it to tastemakers or influencers or whatever the hell PR types call them nowadays. That was always the aim and I have quite a list built up, but I need the completed copy totally finished before I start sending it to people like that.

Increasingly nervous about mistakes that might still be in there (everything I've read about self-editing says you'd be sick to think how many errors you leave in a manuscript yourself no matter how many times you read it), I've also asked a friend who's an experienced editor how much he'd charge to edit Falling for me. He was on holidays at the time and said he'd get back to me but still hasn't, I suspect he isn't the least bit interested or has no time and just doesn't want to have to knock me back.

Lastly, I've decided to use Squarespace for the website, and have already done mockups of the site using a couple of their themes I'm quite happy of.

Rockin' for myself

Well I'm in a new phase, something certain voices in the universe are telling me I should have done all along - I'm designing the cover myself.

The first step was to realise I was never going to get this done (even without doing the design myself) without dedicating time to it regularly, so every Thursday is now Falling day until it's either obviously been a giant waste of time or I'm buying an investment property in the Hollywood Hills off it.

I can't even remember when I came up with the concept, but there are three elements; an image, a black background and a red title. Part of the reason why was because if you look at covers as they appear in Amazon searches, they're pretty small, so I figured only a few simple parts that really stand out from each other will do the trick.

So it was just a matter of finding the right parts for each element, and that's been (I'm still not quite there) a days-long process of mixing and matching different pictures with logo/title treatments of different fonts and just like some of the content of the book, it's been very hard to whittle down. I chose between a classical, powerful serif font like Trajan or Garamond (but might leave that for the movie version), a scratchy, horror movie treatment like you might have seen on the front of Adam Nevill's The Ritual (very much an inspiration), and a straight, slender san serif font all in capitals and slighty blurred to give it a ghostly feeling.

The pictures I'm choosing from are mostly from news websites and some stock shots, so I shouldn't have too much problem getting them as news publishers are so strapped for profits they'll sell anything that's not bolted down, including shots from stories.

Also Mike, a lovely guy I had lined up to do the bridge image showing the new bridge inside who works at Laika Animation Studios, has had to drop out. It was a shame because I felt like we were really on the same page and he did some really good pencil sketches he was kind enough to show me. But he's also been very kind about suggesting some colleagues of his in the industry, a couple of whom have already got back to me, so all's not lost.

In between all that I'm also rereading the extra material, and I've realied I have to do a little bit of rewriting of a few things.

Not the least of which is that I'm moving the bridge collapse forward a year. Don't worry – I'm not changing the entire thing again, just have to make sure I catch every mention of the year of the accident. It was due to be October 2018, but as I'm writing this in March and it's kind of dragging, I thought giving myself another year wouldn't hurt. Even if it takes me the rest of this year to finish (which I hope it won't but then I didn't think I'd still be working on it in 2018 when I decided to publish it this way in about 2010), that gives it however much of this year is left and all next year to build whatever momentum it's going to get.

After that it's the problem of some screenwriter working for Netflix.

Going large

Well my strategy to get the picture of the new bridge right has evolved. After my experience and contacts in the film industry I've rustled up one or two pro CGI artists – I figured that they dothis sort of stuff for moving footage all the time (destroyed cities and buldings, etc) so it should be a snap for them to take a pic of bridge, Photoshop it out, paint/draw in a new one and make it photorealistic. I'm in contact with a couple of guys, and it's not likely to be cheap, but I think it'll be worth it.

I'm still not sure about the main cover pic but I was talking to a bestselling author I know just a few weeks ago describing the bridge pic and he suggested it should be the cover picture. I'm not entirely sure I described the whole strategy with the cover and the bridge pic well enough to do it justice but it gave me food for thought. After spending what will likely be several thousand dollars on it, is it worth putting on the cover?

Also my designer is now off work expecting a baby. I couldn't be happier for her but I feel a bit like I'm dangling in the wind. If I have to do all this myself I have enough confidence to do the cover and all the print work, but the online design is way beyond me at this stage after leaving that industry ten or more years ago.

Plus to be quite frank, she's much better than me, so I'd prefer she do it. I certianly can't complain because she was very excited and insisted on doing it all for free, but I really want to get this book finished and up for sale. In fact I wanted to do it by the end of this year, but there's not much chance of that.

I wish her nothing but the very best, and her having a baby is way more important than my stupid horror novel that'll probably go nowhere, but I have to sound her out. I might have to just use Squarespace or Wix and then pay her to do it all properly if there's any kind of financial success.

Finding the right picture; hard.

It's the design phase. The first challenge is the photo of the new bridge for the opening pages. I've hit brick walls trying to get an original picture of the Harbour Bridge from the right height and angle – the only real possibility I can envisage is to do a private helicopter tour of the harbour and ask the pilot to hover long enough for me to get some shots, but that will cost a couple of hundred dollars and will have to wait until I get home to Sydney in July.

Cheaper but a compromise is a decent couple of shots from iStockphoto and Flickr, so I'll just have to see what shakes out.

Meanwhile I have a huge number of bids on Freelancer.com.au and Guru.com to do it. I could do it myself and it would be fun, but my expertise in recent versions of Photoshop is just patchy enough so I wouldn't trust myself to do the best job of it. It's more important that it looks realistic than I have a good time doing it.

I've also had a look at all the epublishing platforms, and they all seem easier to use than I suspected. The first thing is that if you're on Amazon you're almost everywhere – it has 80 percent of the market (in America, at least), so if I get it on the iBooks store and a handful of the other little ones (Smashwords, Kobo, etc) I figure I'll have almost every potential reader covered.

Other than that there hasn't been any more writing per se, I've just been reading and rereading the bonus material to look for any minor errors or improvements.

I've got a few blogs and articles online to read to brush up on publishing and marketing ebooks but to be honest it's just for any outside tips I don't know – I've been reading stuff about that for so long I feel like there's little I don't already know about the basics.

One thing that has struck me though, and that's how there's a really visible gulf between the quality of ebooks and hard copies. It's not universally the case, but very few ebooks look like the electronic version of high quality printed books – they look like books where the author hasn't been terribly interested in the design (or had access to decent design services) and the covers are all kind of amateur.

I hope the way I'm doing it – using a proper designer and putting as much effort into getting it right as I can – will do the trick. At the very least, I hope people see the cover and have a subconscious reaction that it must be a high quality book because it doesn't look the reams of ebooks with dodgy Microsoft Word covers.

Final reading, drone photography and more

Bloody hell, now it's five minutes until Christmas. Thankfully I've done a lot in the interim though. One friend read it and had positive comments (not much help, really, except to my ego). Another did and found several glaring errors. I've given it to a few more who haven't responded yet and to be honest I think they were only being polite when they offered.

But most importantly, I've done my own read through, and I found a lot (although not as many as I suspected at this stage). It wasn't just a breeze through on screen either, I paid $50 to get it all printed out (500 double sided A4 pages) and sat in bed or on the lounge for what was probably a full 48-72 hours over the course of a month or so and went through the whole thing, red pen ruthlessly in hand.

Along with the grammatical errors and typos I found a few more things I decided to change, which proves the old axiom that works of art are never finished, only abandoned.

Then came a few more nights of inputting the changes and doing a few rewrites. Among the biggest was the sequence when Dale and Vicki are at home in bed late and he wakes up with the brace going haywire. It's a good narrative crux to get to the next piece of the story, but when I read it back I realised it just wasn't very scary – in the horror story, supernatural sense. So I rewrote it as a moody, dark haunted house scene, one I hope works and gets both you and Dale and Vicki to the same place.

Next step now is to finish the list of changes that came out of the reading process in the DO document – most of them are pretty easy checks and fixes – and print it one more time for my beloved to proofread. Then it's back home to Australia to engage a very talented designer I hope is still interested to help build the visual flair.

One part I'm kind of excited about is the shot of the new bridge I intend to have in the opening pages, which arose out of an idea I had ages ago. Way back in the first few drafts I described the way the new bridge looked in pretty excruciating detail – the shape of the pylons, the verticals being shorter at each end and taller in the middle and how it shadowed the arch shape of the old bridge, etc.

At some point since then something struck me because of books I've read, and it's that when describing a visual in text, the human brain doesn't have a good enough memory to retain each piece and build the visual in their mind. The writer doesn't have the same problem because it's already in their mind and they're just describing it piece by piece, but (in the case of Falling) you'll have forgotten that the pylons are rocket-shaped or outback red and ochre in colour by the time you're imagining the height of the verticals.

It gave me what I still feel is a very important pointer that I actually had written in the DO document for a long time until I think I internalised it; when setting a scene, use mood and not description. I suppose it's a related spin on 'show, don't tell'.

If I describe the pylons as being shaped like square-shaped orange and red rockets I have to realise you'll do the rest as the reader – it won't be exactly as I imagined them myself, but it'll be enough by putting you in the right frame of mind rather than wasting paragraphs of description you're not going to retain.

I did subsequent versions of the rewrite with that sentiment pretty front and centre in my head wherever I could, and at some point it occurred to me that when it comes to the new bridge, I should go one step further. Not only is it an important place in the story I'd like you to feel like you know on a deeper level than text can convey, I'd like you to get the visual right in their head – even referring back to it if you want (like the ubiquitous maps in the inside covers of Tolkein's Rings trilogy).

So step one is to acquire a good, clear, high-level image of the bridge and harbour, and step two is to take hours painstakingly Photoshopping the existing bridge out and illustrating the new one in so it looks photo-real. Though I never imagined it when I came up with the idea, step two is looking like the easy part.

It's a tricky proposition. I can go for existing pics that just happen to match what I want, but original photography is likely to be either extremely expensive (if I set exact conditions) or a bit bodgy (if someone does it as a favour or on the cheap).

I've asked a few people I know who might be able to get such a photo on a one off basis just in case it's possible so we'll see. One of the friends I asked actually has a connection with a government department that flies helicopters which I hope works out, because I know hiring one and a photographer is prohibitively expensive. The same friend suggested a drone shot and had a guy who took one for me and wanted to charge me only $100. It was a great offer, but it was too late in the day, too dark and too low.

I asked another contact from technology writing circles about getting a drone shot professionally, but apparently it's almost as expensive as all the other pro avenues. If all else fails I'll just have to buy the most appropriate stock shot I can and work with that. Wouldn't it be funny if one day it makes enough money to warrant the full works with a chopper and photographer?