Sunday 31 August 2014

Amazing Fantasy Art

This gorgeous artwork could almost be a scene strait from Shadow of the Demon

Art from

Monday 25 August 2014

Tips for Writing a Book - How to Self Publish

This route is challenging and the author needs to have knowledge to do these tasks themselves or pay for the following services; book editing, copy editing, a cover design, writing a blurb for the covers, writing press releases, web design, marketing and web promotion (including SEO). I previously advised to try to get published rather than self-published for this reason. How to get published

An advantage of self publishing is all of the profit is your own. Many literary agents with want between 10-20% of the profit. You would also be surprised how little profit there is on a book as most of the cost goes into the manufacture of the book (paper) and also a colour cover.

I have used Lulu and Createspace. I originally used Lulu, but found their prices in the US were very limiting. LULU have now improved and books published by a UK author are more competitive now. I have not found much difference between these two companies. I think Createspace comes across more professional and books appear on Amazon etc more swiftly than Lulu. Lulu can be very picky several months after publishing, alerting you that the line spacing is incorrect. (At this stage, I am not discussing e-publishing. I shall cover that separately. However, both companies offering some form of encryption so your book simply can't be copied to other easily.)

You will need an ISBN bar code as that is the reference book shops use to sell books. You can get your own, or you can have Lulu or Createspace supply one. In any event you need to get an image of the ISBN bar code to put on your books and some sites exist that will do this for you. You simply type in the ISBN number and they generate the image. With Createspace they add the image for you. With Lulu, it depends whether you upload a one-piece book cover or not, from memory.

To self publish on either companies, you need to have as a minimum a word document, although I preferred to create my own PDF file. That gives you more control on the layout of the book. When Lulu etc create a PDF file for you, the layout may change on each time that you run the PDF converter. That means you have to buy a book just to check it is formatted correctly. Createspace have a useful tool that lets you check teh formatting after it has run the converter. Warning, you need to be certain of the page layout requirements before you start. I pushed these to the limit as you or your reader pay for every page and also for postage. It is an advantage therefore to have fewer pages to save you and your readers costs. I used CutePDF which was a free download. There are other free PDF converters. Guidance on how to create a PDF is given here.

You must look at the book layout template -- e.g. for Createspace  click here. This has to be perfect, otherwise it will be rejected. An example of the cover requirement is here. My books are generally about 80,000 words in length (200 pages).

Once you have PDF versions (or if you want, a word document) both Createspace and Lulu are quite good when it comes to uploading these. it takes some practice and both sites have help lines in their forums.

My advice is to get a good book cover that is eye-catching and matches your content. Both Lulu and Createspace have adverts for cover designers but I would suggest getting a recommendation from the forums. Check what the artist can do though, before committing to them. They should be prepared to send a first draft and to let you talk through the cover design to make any amendments. You also need a cover that looks good when it is shrunk down for use on websites. Book covers are too large generally and some websites require a thumbnail image of only about 200 kbytes.

Both Lulu and Createspace offer extended reach type distribution where your book will be available all over the world. You have to pay for this and it is usually not too expensive. However, without marketing, that is not very helpful. That is a subject for another discussion.

Be warned - self publishing can be expensive and so you have to be astute as to what you pay for. The market for advice and general help is huge and also costly. The following are typical costs -- in my experience. You may be able to find better deals.

Book editing - I have been quoted anything up to £1000 per book
Copy editing - Generally about £1 per page
Cover design - Anywhere between £100-300. However, some folk will charge a lot more
Distribution charge (paid to Lulu etc) - £40
Paying for a domain name (eg - .coms are expensive £80 per year, .uk are cheaper at about £20 per year
Paying for a host site - £40 per year (sometimes including in the cost of a domain name)
The cost of a webdesign package - I use Webplus and that was about £90. It is sometimes on offer and you can get the older versions more cheaply. There are free web design packages!
Marketing - you pay as much as you want! Most people do this for themselves 9not successfully in many cases)
Paying for draft books to check the quality - probably need to buy 3-4 copies and postage (total of about £50)

This is not a cheap business and there are a lot of sharks out there that will fleece you. You can take short cuts and rely on friends and family, but then the quality may not be sufficient to sell books, if that's your aim. I usually put a profit on a book of about £0.7 per book so that the overall cost is not off-putting. I therefore need to sell a lot of books to recover the initial costs.

Please feel free to ask questions.

Best wishes, David

My previous articles are:

Read How to Get Self Published
Should You Pay for a Review -- yes or no?
Making Your Writing Interesting
My top tips
Choosing a genre
How to Start writing a Book?
Creating a Plot for Your Book

Friday 22 August 2014

Apologies to Fantasy Fans :(

As you can see by my recent posts, I have been reading a lot on holiday. The weather in Edinburgh was overcast. Mots my reading has been about historical fiction so my blog has been devoid of fantasy for a few weeks. However, some of these books are excellent tales and not too far removed from fantasy. There's battles galore, heroics and impossible odds. If you are stuck for something to read then a tale about ancient Rome, or Saxon England in the making is well worth a read.

A Review of the Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan Lord (The Saxon Stories, #7)The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is the best book of his series to date. There's some nice twists in the tale. I wasn't too keen on the start as Uhtred has fallen foul of the Church on several occasions and you'd think he would have learned by now. But the tale develops nicely and there's a few new characters including many more Uhtreds that it does get a bit confusing. The book is a skilful depiction of Saxon England in the making and well worth reading. An enjoyable romp.

View all my reviews

A Review of Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Death of Kings (The Saxon Stories, #6)Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Saxon series is brilliant and Uhtred is a superb character. The prose was a little clipped for my liking, as the author adds a level of  arrogance to the central character. Uhtred is also getting old and his future is never certain, especially being pagan in a Christian world. There's a nice development with various prophets predicting the future, non of it bright for the Saxons. Uhtred has his own answer to this and his ploy makes great reading. As usual, the battles are brilliantly described and you get a real sense of being in a shield wall. Fantasy fans would also like this book.

View all my reviews

A Review of Avenger of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Avenger of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens, #3)Avenger of Rome by Douglas Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Definitely my favourite of the series so far. For historical fiction fans -- this has everything. A build up to an epic battle, plots, intrigue and more than its fair share of twists. General Corbulo is a great character and very believable Nero's degeneration is nicely handled. I liked the comradeship that developed between Valerius and Tiberious. A bitter sweet ending that I hadn't seen coming. An excellent book.

View all my reviews

A Review of Defender of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Defender of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens, #2)Defender of Rome by Douglas Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good book with lots of intrigue. It's set in Rome and the author skilfully handles Nero as a character and how it is not always wise to be in the Emperor's eye. This theme develops nicely in the next book in the series.Early Christianity features in the tale and is handled well and is nicely woven into the plot. A very good read.

View all my reviews

Thursday 14 August 2014

Book Review, Hero of Rome -- Douglas Jackson

Hero of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens, #1)Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed most of this book. It's well written and really conveys the sense of Rome. It's set in Britain in AD about 60. It was complicated by lots of names and most the action was in the early part of the book and the latter, which was a shame as the action was well conceived and well written. The intervening plot was good and a developing love story between the main character Valerius and a local tribes woman. There's contention in the Roman ranks as well as the growing threat from the Icena tribe. The tale is historically accurate (as close as research would allow) and entertaining. I'm currently reading Defender of Rome, the next book in the series.

View all my reviews

Tuesday 12 August 2014

A review of Karen Azinger's The Knight Marshall

The Knight Marshal (The Silk & Steel Saga, #5)The Knight Marshal by Karen Azinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another good book, mixing events in the north with those of the south. Again, the Mordant is a great character. I also liked the black blade and the events surrounding that. A little dull in parts as Kath finds herself stranded in the north. Whilst her and her colleagues grow bored, unfortunately so too does the reader. The writer can be forgiven though as the tale collects itself nicely and gathers paces trying to save the kingdoms of Erdhe. Nicely written and very imaginative. Once it got going there's barely a dull moment, some excellent creations and the plot has some nice and unexpected twists. Definitely a Saga for fantasy fans to read. Looking forward to the next instalment.

View all my reviews

A Review of Christian JacQ's The Tree of Life

The Tree Of Life (The Mysteries of Osiris, #1)The Tree Of Life by Christian Jacq
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A tale about an apprentice scribe kidnapped in ancient Egypt. I liked the gentle pace of the tale and how Iker's life develops in a series of unexpected events. The writer nicely captures the Gods of ancient Egypt, their relationship with their animal representatives on earth and the people's beliefs. There's a good promise of more to come and definitely an interesting tale. Perhaps too many names starting with S that it did get a bit confusing at times. This will mainly appeal to fans of Egyptian historical fiction.

View all my reviews

Saturday 9 August 2014

Meaningless reviews? Are self-published authors deluding themselves rather than the readers

I just went on Goodreads and I was not pleased by a thread where most people are behaving and harmlessly (?) liking other people's 5 star reviews, but what caught my eye was:

"Since you seem to be the newest authors to post, I will connect with you. Here is the link to my books on Amazon. I just gave you a five star, XXXX. I hope you can do the same. Thanks in advance for your time!

ZZZZ - I don't see the 5 star option for yours - only the option to review the book. Do you have a link so I can rate yours without a review? I must be clicking on something incorrectly.
Thanks, YYYY" (Names omitted)

I'm not sure I agree with authors giving each other 5 star reviews. Have I misunderstood this?

All my reviews are very hard earned so I find this rather annoying. This is making the review process completely a waste of time!!

Review of Karen Azinger's Poison Priestess

The Poison Priestess (The Silk & Steel Saga, #4)The Poison Priestess by Karen Azinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Skeleton King was always going to be a difficult book to follow. This book was good, but not as good as the previous books. The tale moves south and follows the events in Lanverness. The Lord Raven is a great creation and thoroughly dislikeable. You know there is a comeuppance coming and to be honest, it can't happen too soon. There's more intrigue and courtly goings-on in this novel. It's worth reading and does take the tale forward nicely, but there's less action and magic than in the earlier books. Duncan is another good character. I did find some oddities in the tale, but they didn't detract too much.

View all my reviews

Writing a Book - How to get Published

I will write an article about self-publishing as a route later, as that is my experience, however, I think getting published should be your main priority. If I have made a mistake it was in not exploring all the small publishers. I bought   writers_and_artists_yearbook and at the time (1998) I found that there were very few fantasy publishers. I should have persisted and contacted the smaller press.

It is also recommended that you find a literary agent. Again, this aught to be your first port of call. The key is to have an information pack to send off that contains a synopsis and sample chapters (usually the first three chapters). See the pitfalls below before doing this though! Both publishers and literary agents usually request that you include a self-addressed envelope as well so they can return the information and include a reply. 

This can be a very difficult process, but stick with it. If you have followed my guidance of starting with short stories for reasons laid out in Writing a Book - How to Start, this should give you confidence that your writing is good and appropriate to submit. Keep trying therefore. J K Rowling was turned down by many publishers/agents who must regret now not taking time to consider her work more thoroughly. When I went through this process I had the nagging feeling that publishers simply transferred my synopsis etc. from one envelope to another without reading it. That publishers etc. turned down J K Rowling perhaps reflects this view. This is a very frustrating process.

The reason for going through a publisher is the level of expertise, otherwise you will need to pay for a book editor, copy editor and front cover artwork. All of which is fraught with difficulties. I have read some very good self-published books, written to a very high standard and that are very professional, and yet many still contain errors. The publishing route, unless you are very lucky, is the most professional route. There are also a lot of people claiming to be experts at editing and you have little or no way of knowing whether this is true. Fortunately, I have had some good experiences as well as some bad ones. 

I would suggest writing to both literary agents and publishers at the same time, as this is a long process. Check their websites and check that what they want from you. You need to follow their submission guidance, otherwise they will not consider your work. Their guidance can be very prescriptive so be careful to follow it. An example her is Random House. This is not perhaps the best example as they request that you go via a literary agent, however, that knowledge saves you and them time and money. Avoid having one pack of information to send to everyone. You must vary the information in line with the requirements. 

Where to find a publisher or literary agent? The Writers and Artists Yearbook is a good start point although it is updated annually and so you can quickly be out of date.  The Internet is a good source of information. Just type  Book Publishers to see an extensive list. Fine tune this with your genre (eg Fantasy Book Publishers) and you will get a more realistic list. You can also see who published books that you enjoy by looking in the inside front cover. 

I hope this information is useful to you and best wishes. David
Making it interesting
My top tips
Choosing a genre
How to start?
Creating a plot

Fantasy Dreams - Castles

Ch√Ęteau de la Mothe-Chandeniers, France. Remarkably similar to Leeds Castle in Kent. I wonder who nicked whose idea?

Love the moat. Quite a barrier for any attacker. At Leeds castle the moat is easily drained as it is contained by a soil wall proud of the ground. However, even without the water it would be a significant barrier, several feet of thick sludge.

Extended Version of the Desolation of Smaug - looking forward to it!!

Can't wait for this to come out. 25 minutes extended scenes. Brilliant

Who needs fantasy Creatures??

Wow, this is terrifying enough without the need for dragons or demons. No wonder Tolkien had giant spiders in Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. What is it about them that makes us go weak at the knees. This one is awesome.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

New Low Price - The Prophecy of the Kings

Look out!! Amazon are selling the Prophecy of the Kings Trilogy for £10.94. That's all three books for under £11. Hurry while stocks last

Check it out here

Contains Legacy of the Eldric, Dragon Rider and Shadow of the Demon. Limited time only!!

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Fantasy Short Story - A Fight for Body and Soul

A Fight for Possession
By David Burrows

Hannon pulled on his reins, his patience exacerbated. Rain washed his face as he scowled up at the overhead canopy, his eyes briefly retaining an image of the dappled light even though the day was grey. It seemed that there was to be no letup in the weather, but that was not his main concern. He cocked his head as he listened to the woodland noises trying to decipher the many sounds. His face was set in concentration and worry gnawed in his guts. He did not have long to wait and he flinched when a crack from a broken branch confirmed his fears. That was a large animal and a sturdy branch by the sounds of it. He was being followed.
With some difficulty, given the narrowness of the trail, he turned his mount to face the way he had come and waited. Rain continued to seep under his collar, damp now rather than cold. He blinked to clear his vision, knowing that he may need to react swiftly should the need arise. He was confident of his own skills. Youth and dexterity were on his side, but the damp would wear any man down and his joints ached softly.
After a few moments a silhouette appeared from within the tunnel framed by trees. A rider. A lean man astride a brown horse that looked as miserable with the weather as Hannon did. The man urged his mount forward and then stopped no more than ten paces away and at that moment even the birdcall vanished, as though in expectation of the events to follow.
“Why are you following me?” Hannon demanded softly. There was no need to raise his voice. He wanted to sound calm even though his pulse raced. The other man rose in his stirrups as though relieving a cramp. Long, dark hair framed a youthful face. His eyes were pinched against the drizzle, his eyebrows narrowed in concentration. Hannon knew instantly that this man was not to be trusted, whether a premonition or a judgement of character he cared less. He dropped his gaze to the other man’s weapons; a sword and knife scabbarded at his waste. The sword’s pommel looked worn; a bad sign that he may be an experienced sword’s man.
The man smiled thinly. “Give me the kara-stone and I will let you ride on.” His voice was gravel, flat and full of menace.
Hannon’s horse crabbed across the path and he pulled on the reins, bringing it to a halt. “Kara-stone? I don’t know what you are talking about.”
The other man snorted. “I saw it, yesterday, when you were sitting in the tavern, waiting for your meal. You took it out, wrapped in a cloth and looked upon it; a blue-green stone, the colour of the ocean. I would have it. Give it to me and I will let you ride on,” he nodded to the trail behind Hannon, letting the malice in his words hang in the air between them.
“I am content to sell it – if the price is right,” Hannon stated. That was his intention all along, to sell it and make some money and he was hoping for a sizeable sum.
“Why should I buy it when I can take it,” came the reply. Hannon had half expected it. His luck never ran true and with hand the gods gave and the other they took away.
Hannon’s one advantage now was action rather than inaction. Without further consideration he dug his heels in his mount’s flanks and, shouting, urged his horse forward, intending to use his mount’s momentum and sudden attack to unbalance his foe, for that was who he was; an enemy that must be swept aside. Horse and man covered the distance swiftly. The other man’s eyes grew wide and he shouted an oath as his hand flew to his sword. He half drew the weapon before the horses collided, bodies impacting with a heavy thud that rocked Hannon in the saddle, even though he was prepared for it.
Hannon drew his sword as the other man was thrown aside, leaning precariously back, hanging on with his reins and fighting to stay in the saddle. His sword remained undrawn as he fought for balance. Hannon used the flat of his own sword, aimed at the other man’s head, trying to stun him rather than kill. With a look of terror the other man dodged the blow and urged his horse away from the sudden melee.
Glancing back at Hannon his eyes were ablaze with fury as he regained his seat. Over his shoulder he shouted words, his fingers tracing a symbol in the air. Hannon’s insides grew cold. A sorcerer. A blast of air threw him from his saddle and the ground slammed into him, knocking the wind from his lungs. A loud ‘oofff’ escaped his lips and the back of his head hit the ground, rattling his brain. For a moment the world went black. Gasping for breath he tried to turn so he could get to his knees, his head ablaze with pain from the sudden impact.
The narrow woodland trail gave him a few precious moments respite as the other man fought to turn his horse. Senses reeling, he tried to get up, but instinct caused him to throw himself to one side and he rolled as the other man thundered by, trying to trample him beneath his horses hooves.
Hannon found himself off the trail between the trees. Still winded he tried to rise to face his enemy. His knees gave way and he held a solid tree trunk for support. He shook his head to try to clear the fog and fresh waves of pain caused him to vomit. His knees buckled. His head hurt like hell.
The other man dismounted now that the trees were between them and he came forward, drawing his sword with an exaggerated slowness that bespoke volumes. Hannon realised then that he had dropped his own weapon. His thoughts ablaze with fear and dread Hannon cast about, seeing his sword on the trail in front of the advancing man. There was no way he could reach it before the other man did. Cursing, he pushed himself away from the tree he was balanced against and sought to retreat further into the wood. His legs felt leaden. His muscles barely responded and then after a few strides he found his balance and weaving between trees he sought to flee.
The dense trees saved him from the second sorcerous attack. As he dodged between tall oaks a blast of flame scorched his hair, narrowly missing him before slamming into a stout trunk in a loud explosion that rocked the very earth. The flame rebounding from the impact took his breath away and he ducked, shielding his head with his arms. Ears ringing, he knew that he wasn’t going to survive the attack. He stumbled to a halt and raising his hands he gasped, “Enough!” He twisted around as the other man started to walk towards him, slowing from his own sprint, his sword level with the ground and pointing at Hannon’s stomach.
Hannon’s hand went to his leather jerkin, soaked through with rain. He sought an inner pocket and found the package that he wanted. He was furious with the turn of events and struggled to keep his anger from his face. He held the bundle out to the other man, unwrapping the contents and revealing the kara-stone for the first time. The other man’s eyes locked on the prize in obvious longing. The stone was fist sized and glowed softly, seeming translucent in the woodland’s half light. Hannon recognised the greed reflected in the other man’s eyes and the sight further angered him. He hated to lose, especially such a wealthy prize.
“Take it,” Hannon snapped, thrusting his arms out in supplication. The man paused as though sensing a trap. His head tilted to one side and his eyes locked on Hannon’s. The eyes were uncompromising and Hannon knew he had chosen correctly. Surrender rather than death, but even still his thoughts rattled on, seeking to reverse his situation.
“Take it,” he urged again, holding the prize out as if it offended him. The stone rested on the cloth. The blue/green glow seemed to pulse as though in time with Hannon’s heart and Hannon looked at it with growing dread. He had not seen it do this before and he realised how little he knew about the orb. He had found it a few days before, nestled  between two rocks in an isolated mountain recluse he had been exploring; the ruins of a cottage where he had hoped to find a stash of gold or silver; a building no doubt over run by krell at some time in its past.
What was he holding? He had scant information about kara-stones other than sorcerers would pay good gold for one. Rumour suggested kara-stones might be dangerous to touch. He had no idea why, but that was his only advantage that something might happen if it came in contact with flesh. He kept the revelation from his face, grimacing as fresh waves of pain swept through his head.
The other man’s hand reached out for the stone, his sword’s point an inch from Hannon’s unprotected belly. His enemy was young as he had first thought; his chin devoid of facial hair and his skin as yet unblemished by wind or sun. Hannon tried to read his mind to anticipate his actions. He didn’t like what he saw. The other man looked confident and uncaring.
A crooked smile formed as his hand sought the cloth the stone rested on. He was clearly trying not to touch the stone and this was the distraction Hannon was waiting for. He tilted his hand, bringing the stone in contact with the other man’s flesh. His eyes widened and he thrust the sword forward as Hannon desperately sought to twist away. The other man screamed, but his blow was already committed and Hannon was not quick enough to escape fully. The blade sliced along Hannon’s torso and pain erupted as it bit deep. Twisting saved the point entering his body, but the blade itself was razor sharp and passed through linen and flesh with an ease that made Hannon scream with pain.
Both men fell to the ground. Hannon clutched his wound, which flamed as though a red hot poker had been held there. He cursed and tried to stand. The kara-stone had fallen to the ground between the two men, forgotten for the moment. His opponent was still on the ground and Hannon wondered for an instant what the stone had done. Then he was up, one hand drawing his dagger and the other clamped to his belly.
Before he could attack, his enemy rolled over and stood, albeit with difficulty. Hannon swiped the knife across his enemy’s throat, but the other man reacted swiftly, pulling his head back and the knife narrowly missed the exposed flesh. Only then did Hannon register the other man’s eyes. Abruptly they were changed. They were ethereal; detached from the face as though belonging in another plane of existence. Large orbs, glowing green locked on his with an intensity that made his heart quail.  
Instinctively, Hannon drew back. He had heard about the krell wars. He had also heard about demons. Who hadn’t? Laughter filled the air as he confronted the other man, terror preventing him from attacking but also preventing retreat. A possession, he guessed, as the other man stalked around him, a manic grin on his lips as his eyes seemed to flash an undecipherable message. The eyes shifted relative to the other man’s face as though not quite belonging there and a dread cold seemed to fill the void between them.  
Hannon considered flight. He stepped back and his heel caught something behind him, threatening to spill him to the soil. He kept his balance. “Let me go!” he pleaded, waving the knife in front of him.
The demon’s eyes dropped to the blood seeping through Hannon’s fingers and he licked his lips. “And why should I do that?” his enemy croaked as though unused to speaking.
With a scream that froze Hannon’s blood the other man leapt the intervening distance, easily knocking aside his blade from nerveless fingers. He could only cry out in terror as hands sought his throat and incredibly strong fingers crushed his windpipe, stopping the life giving air from his lungs as he collapsed once more to the ground.
Hannon fell. He fell for an eternity. His cry mixed with that of his soul. A perpetuity of pain in an instant. And yet... a promise of far more to come.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Review - The Skeleton King, Karen Azinger. Excellent Read.

The Skeleton King (The Silk & Steel Saga, #3)The Skeleton King by Karen Azinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Definitely well worth reading. This book concentrates and a few of the main characters in the north of the world, following the Mordant to his lair. The tale is less complex with fewer characters, but there's a lot going on. There's a good mix of magic, used in a sparing way that keeps you guessing and wanting more. The plot hums along nicely with enough twists and unexpected surprises to keep you guessing. I much preferred this to Game of Thrones as it has all the intrigue but with a much clearer plot line. An excellent read.

View all my reviews

Battle of the Five Armies - Trailer

The trailer looks brilliant and certainly wets the appetite! Looking forward to this.