I'm rich...

A few weeks into the process of marketing Falling I was pleasantly surprised to see I'd sold a copy of the ebook through the Amazon page.

After further excitement at discovering $100 worth of sales on my reports tab that I soon realised was me buying paperback copies for myself, I learned to temper my excitement and not expect any more spontaneously pop up. And boy was I not disappointed for the longest time.

So imagine my delight when I logged into my Smashwords dashboard recently to complete some form I had to submit for tax purposes and saw I'd sold two more copies!

That brings Falling's total lifetime sales to a whopping US$8.97. Like Joey Lauren Adams said in Chasing Amy, I feel like John Grisham.

Where's my red paperclip?

The locked gates. The give and take of what people need versus what they want when they give you access versus you giving them exposure. Getting your foot in the door.

I've been thinking about stuff like that lately after interviewing several big name authors for a story in my day job as a reporter. Although to be honest it was a way of crossing the streams between my day job and Falling, and the honest intent was publicity for the book. I'd pitched an idea to a magazine I last wrote for more than a decade ago (Good Reading) after I got back in touch with the editor to ask her about getting Falling reviewed or plugged somehow.

She suggested making the story about why sci-fi and horror don't get any respect in literary circles, and the payoff was that I'd get a nice blurb at the end about Falling with links and everything.

I lined up Matthew Reilly, David Brin, Greg Bear and Ramsey Campbell, quite a rogues gallery of acclaimed authors from genre fiction, got some great responses and comments from them, put the story together and it came out great.

One of my ulterior motives, of course, was that they'd be so chuffed at the story they'd feel like they owed me something and – when I kept in touch and befriended them to enough of a degree – I could raise the idea of getting them to read and endorse Falling.

I'd already sent it to Matthew Reilly but I know how busy he is, but I emailed both Brin and Campbell with crossed fingers and they both (graciously but flatly) refused. I don't harbour any ill feeling toward either of them personally – as they both explained, they're busy writing their own books.

As although they didn't say so, it's implicit in the working relationship that if they agreed to read a book every crackpot looking for publicity asked them to they'd never get anything done. I thought I might be able to leverage some slight feeling of a favour reciprocated, but from the perspective of an author being interviewed for the media they're doing their job and I'm doing mine.

If I was doing an in-depth profile in The New Yorker Magazine that had the potential to elevate their public profile (and lead to a lot more sales) they might feel more of a sense of obligation. Authors – even big ones – are actually a lot more available to publicity opportunities because despite how it looks there aren't a lot of filthy rich authors, and some very influential names in book publishing are surprisingly easy to track down and surprisingly agreeable to talk to you if you're in the media.

But in this case they probably considered a few questions by email for a tiny books magazine on the other side of the world a favour they were doing for me, if anything.

There's nothing wrong with aiming high and trying to get David Brin (or Stephen King or Martin Scorsese for that matter) to publicly say how great your story is and in doing so write your ticket, but most of the effort to publicise a self published book when nobody's heard of it (or you) follows the Red Paperclip principle.

Remember the story about the guy who advertised a red paperclip on Craigslist? He traded it for something slightly better, traded that for something slightly better again, all the way up until he swapped the last item for a house.

In the same way, you might have to build a fanbase one reader at a time, eventually recruiting more people to endorse you, which might recruit people with slightly more influence, who might do it again in turn, until glowing praise from Ramsey Campbell, David Brin, Stephen King or Martin Scorsese are the house you end up with after the red paperclip you started.

Is Neal Stephenson trying to tell me something?

In all the marketing I put together for Falling, I've said several times that the authors I most emulated are Stephen King (as everyone who's ever written a horror novel must) and Michael Crichton, because of his masterful grasp of what's been called the 'techno-thriller' subgenre.

But there's another author I haven't mentioned but whose work I had in mind a lot, especially during the later years of huge rewrites, and that's sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson.

If you haven't tried his books, you're in for both a slog and a treat. He's incredibly smart and knows the ins and outs of so many scientific and technological principles he'll make you feel smarter just from reading his work, and ironically dumber too because his intellect will leave yours in the dust.

At times his books have been so dense they were more hard work than enjoyment. When I read his classic Cryptonomicon I only managed about ten 10 pages a night before it put me to sleep, and that's because it was so mentally taxing, not because it was boring.

His more recent book Seveneves was so full of the technicalities and science of spaceflight and extra-planetary travel it felt like Stephenson could be running NASA.

He's also not afraid of grand, epic ideas. As well as sounding scientifically plausible throughout, Seveneves was an epoch-spanning saga about the future of humankind when the sudden destruction of the moon wipes out of most of the life on Earth's surface. Halfway through the doorstop-sized book, when there are only seven members of the human race left alive, a new chapter denoting 'Five Thousand Years Later' gave me shivers.

I was thinking about Stephenson again recently because he has a new book out. The reason I was so excited about it isn't just because I'm such a fan of his, though – it's the name; Fall, or, Dodge in Hell.

Call me silly believing there's some cosmic fated message about my book just because it has a similar name, but us wannabe authors will take boosts wherever we can get them.

Anyway, there's a precedent. As a film journalist I interviewed Leigh Whannell, the writer and creator behind the Saw series alongside James Wan. He told me a story about when he and Wan were trying to get interest in the original script for Saw from studios. He was driving around his native Melbourne, depressed about it not getting anywhere, when he pulled up at a traffic light behind a car whose number plate started with the letters 'SAW'. He took it as a sign from the universe, felt more galvanised and determined about making it a success, and the rest is history.

I better email Stephenson and tell him, I'm sure he'll appreciate another crazy getting in touch.

On foreshadowing

I was thinking about some of the turns in Falling's plot recently, ruminating on how they evolved, grew and took shape, especially the really big one about Vicki and whether she has some prior relationship to what's going on in the story (I won't say either way as I figure this blog should be pretty spoiler free).

But there are tons of them throughout the story because in the last rewrite I built in a lot of set-ups, callbacks and resolutions that crisscrossed between times and characters.

A good example was the killswitch code, a command Dale figures out he can send to the brace to shut it down completely which he intends to during the climax if Tim's idea about changing the field frequency of the brace doesn't work.

The tricky dance around including it was that I had to introduce the concept, but I couldn't do it then and there because it might as well have been wearing a day-glo T shirt that said 'DEUS EX MACHINA'. That meant it had to come up in conversation much earlier, and that meant it had to be something that wasn't just innocuous but was related to something else in the story, otherwise it would be wearing a different T shirt that said 'THE AUTHOR DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW BUT THIS IS GOING TO BE IMPORTANT LATER!!', and nothing yanks you out of any story faster than seeing the author/screenwriter trying to pull a narrative trick on you.

All of which had me thinking about foreshadowing, and how hard it is to do well. And it's hard to do well for just one reason – your audience is always smarter than you give them credit for. if you have a secret you want to reveal in stages and give little hints and clues to it throughout your book or script, I find a general rule of thumb it to make it 25 percent as obvious as you initially think you should (as a maximum – if it's 10 percent they'll still get it).

Because as an audience, we've seen it all. How many times have you watched comic hijinks in a romantic comedy and rolled your eyes because of how obviously it's going to happen? How many times have we seen the hero sent forth from a corporate or institutional infrastructure to root out some criminal corruption only to find it starts at the top of the tree from whence he/she came?

There's nothing inherently wrong with those plot turns (although I do find those old chestnuts incredibly tiresome and I'm convinced writers should/could try harder and really surprise us), but it's the foreshadowing that telegraphs them from the rooftops that really irks us.

If you have a twist and you want to pepper clues to it throughout your story so the reader slaps his/her forehead and says 'Of course! Why didn't I see that coming!', tread incredibly carefully. Strip back and back and back some more. It'll mean the difference between genuine delight and surprise and a groan of boredom that might cause them to close the book and discard it altogether.

My biggest customer

After the review appeared in Sydney's Sunday Telegraph not long ago, I kept checking Falling's Amazon and Apple sale pages to see the sales rack up.

In the week or so that followed I sold a grand total of one copy, which could have been depressing but at least it was my first ever proper sale of a long form fiction book in my life, and considering I've wanted to be a working author since I was 13 it could have be worse.

But I got a huge shock of pleasant surprise more recently when I logged into the Amazon account to see I'd sold five copies of the paperback, and I'd only just finished getting it ready for sale.

I leapt up, preparing to run around the house telling everyone, when I suddenly realised that because of Amazon's stupid rule where you can only get proof copies of your paperback if you live in the US, I'd had to buy them like a normal customer.

So yes, I'd sold five copies of my book... to myself.

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;

181023-A156.jpg

to this;

20190124_TurneyBridge_007.jpg

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;