New Book Trailer

We’d already made a book trailer for The Red Man and Others when it came out on Kindle. For this, we took the Red Man himself as a starting point, and then connected Ymke and the farm she grew up on to the Otasfaust, where she met Kaila. As we were launching the expanded paperback of the story collection (available here) we thought it’d be a good idea to give it a new book trailer. Here it is:

The idea we had was to focus on The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, as this is the longest story in the book, and the one in which Ymke, Kaila and Sebastien meet up. As it’s written from Ymke’s point of view, we decided to do it from her perspective, using the first lines of the story, as written by her. We’d already used a medieval style of drawing for the chapter headers of the paperback, and we felt that this would also suit the narrative of the trailer. So, I set to work doing the drawings from Ymke’s diary. I had fun with that, even though Ymke’s a better writer than artist!

We recorded the sound in GarageBand, with separate files for the narration and for the Brotherhood of the Wheel’s chanting. The bell is actually a dinner gong – our cat Polly doesn’t like the sound, and her struggle throughout recording and editing was real! The various Brothers were all me, chanting in different registers, taped on several tracks and then ‘audited’ and mixed. GarageBand is quite flexible, and where a Brother had a good voice but no rhythm, I could still go in and cut – his -track – up to match.

We filmed the ‘live’ bits in our library by candlelight. It’s not something I’d recommend, as the footage came out quite grainy, but if it’s good enough for Kubrick (Barry Lyndon) it’s good enough for me. It’s Angeline you see there, wearing quite a bit of jewellery appropriate for Ymke, like a northern Dutch bracelet with blood coral and a clunky Nibelungen-style armband. The goose quill pen came from a ‘medieval writing’ kit, but augmented with a modern nib. Various odds and ends from around the house, including the Lewis chess piece queen, made up the backdrop.

I edited the video in iMovie. First I laid down the sound, then cut the footage over it, which I’d first sorted into three folders: No (terrible), yes (stuff I’d like to include), maybe (not great, but some elements may work as a cross-cut). I also created the title card in Pixlr, a free, online Photoshop-like program: it’s black and white text on a green screen, which iMovie could then lay over the footage.

It’s all fairly straightforward, and nothing that takes a very steep learning curve: Google is your friend here too – it’ll direct you to ‘how do I do this’ pages and YouTube tutorials. This is all software that was free online or bundled with my computer, and when working digitally, imagination is the main constraint. If the result is rubbish, then scrap it and try again, or try Plan B. It’s absolutely possible to create something aesthetically pleasing, evocative of your book, and tempting to readers.

And – did I really burn one of my drawings? No, of course not. I’d scanned and printed it, and mounted the page in the book. I’m not very precious about my art, but torching it would go a bit far even for me!

Track Your Submissions

As over the years we’ve built up quite a drawer full of stories, we needed to have a system to keep track of what went where, when. Our tracker is a living document, updated whenever we’ve got something to update, and sometimes we play a bit with the format. As it’s something we both use, and we’ve got slightly different thinking patterns, above all our submissions tracker had to be simple and intuitive.

Here’s a model of our tracker; I’ve stripped out magazine and story titles, so nobody need feel embarrassed.

On the horizontal axis we’ve got our story titles plus their word count. We pretty much know our stories, so that’s all we need. Vertically, we’ve got the magazine titles with the genre and the word count requirements. Tip: if your spreadsheet program allows, you can link the story title to its submission page on the ‘net. Not shown, on the right hand side, there’s a column with a little bit more detail on the specific quirks they have (“They accept horror but prefer it with speculative element”). Tip: lock your column and row with the magazine and story titles, so when you scroll they stay visible.

Whenever we’ve got a new story, we look at which markets it’s suitable for. Those which aren’t, we give a grey square. Whenever we’ve got a new market, we look at which stories we can potentially submit to them. These choices aren’t only based on word count and genre; sometimes you just know that a market won’t like a story. In practice, you’ll end up throwing things against the wall to see what sticks, and editor feedback (or the lack of it) can make you fine tune it. Tip: Don’t self-reject too quickly. Also: stories can bust genres, like when an editor normally doesn’t take horror but you feel that based on previous feedback they might like your horror story which is actually more a philosophical exploration.

Whenever we submit a story, we make the square for the story title dark blue, as well as the corresponding square in the row for the magazine we submitted it to, where we also type the submission date. That story’s now off the market until we hear an outcome. A market may not be open yet, or a story has been submitted, but we already know where we want it next: in this case we make the story/market square light-blue. You’ll see one story in orange there – we got extensive feedback on it from an editor, and we’ve decided that we want to rewrite it. Tip: Keep a record of your feedback in a separate tab.

And finally, there’s the red squares for “alas!” We don’t let them demotivate us: looking at them may help us decide what a magazine editor likes, and revise our greys and whites. Whenever we colour a square red, we do tend to look at “where do we send this story next?” and “anything else we can send them?”

So, this is our tracker. It works for us (though, this example shows that we can be a bit more ‘on top’ of it). If you’re serious about submitting, we strongly advise you to use a submission tracker. Of course, make it your own. Make it work for you!

No NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a great concept, but it’s not for everyone. Northern Irish scifi writer Jo Zebedee already set out her reasons why she’s not joining the fray in her blog post. We’ll also not be joining, but we do offer an alternative challenge for November boost your writing and your confidence!

First some Public Service Announcements:

Item: This week we received our author’s copies of Underneath The Tree, the Christmas story collection which contains our story Special Dispatch. We’ve already dipped into it, ad it definitely makes good on its promise of “a diverse range of genres – from the gothic and ghostly, to the criminal, comedic and supernatural” and if this doesn’t convince you to get it; all proceeds are for the homeless charity Simon Community and the predatory bird sanctuary World of Owls NI.

Item: One week left to get our Heroic Fantasy collection The Red Man and Others at a discount (£1.99 UK, $2.99 US). Get in your review on Goodreads or Amazon, and make a chance to win a piece of original art of the book’s heroine Kaila, or of Kaila with her girlfriend-in-arms Ymke!

So, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is to complete a novel in a month’s time. Years ago we talked about doing it, but we discreetly fell off and never mentioned again. In our daily lives, never mind this particular year, we deal with too much pressure and expectation to want to add this particular one ‘just because,’ and we both know we work better the fewer simultaneous demands we have on our plates. A high chance of medically induced ‘off’ days would further throw any schedule into disarray, with little chance of catching up.

It also depends on the way you write. Some writers easily bang out thousands of words in a stream of consciousness. They may be rubbish, but they give them something to build on in the next draft. Our first drafts tend to already reasonably resemble the final thing, but it does mean that our writing pace is glacially slow. If we do rough it, it’s literally of the SEBASTIEN DOES SOMETHING FUNNY HERE placeholder variety. We’ve got to face it; producing 1666 words every day for 30 days is not going to happen. Not even between the two of us.

Then there are the demands that a novel has that shorter stories lack, like consistency, and a more complex structure. The longer the story, the more we’ve found we have to immerse ourselves in the world each time before hitting the keyboard. Imagine that writing is like having to dive for words. When writing flash fiction you can just take a deep breath and bob under the surface. For a longer story, you’ve got to get your goggles, your wetsuit and your breathing aparatus out. When you write a novel you’ve got to hoist yourself into the full metal-helmeted suit, and have two burly men cranking the air pump.

So. What is the alternative? If you indeed think that a full novel is not going to be for you, but you’re up for quick sprints, then consider what I did last year (albeit in October). Every year, October is known as Inktober, in which people use a daily prompt to make a piece of art each day. You can a prompt card, perhaps one from a genre you particularly like (I chose a D&D prompts sheet last year), and write a piece of flash fic daily. I did them out of order too, and just picked a prompt for which an idea came to mind. You set your rules.

Last year, I wrote 31 flash fic pieces of between 250 and 750 words. They were all set in the world of our story collection (did I mention it’s on sale and you could win original art?), and depicted moments set before, during and after the stories in the book. Some of these shorts, after some editing, are currently ‘doing the rounds’ hoping to find a home, others were combined and expanded into proper short stories, like the one that’s going to be appearing in a Dutch magazine, and others again will be absorbed in bigger works. In all, most of the fics will be used; I’m Dutch, and we’re a thrifty lot after all. And then there’s this one, Ferryman

Even if a series of short sprints is also not for you, then you could still ask yourself the question: in what way can I jumpstart or supercharge my writing, that would challenge me, but not overburden me? It’s been quite the year, so be kind to yourself. Use a project like NaNoWriMo to lift yourself up and boost your confidence, and not to create a rod for your own back!