Archives for June 2013

Indie Publishing a Print Book

So, how much does it cost to independently produce the print version of a book these days?

Well, Stealer of Flesh (currently available from Amazon, the Book Depository and any bookstore where you care to place an order ISBN: 978-1483969541) cost me somewhere under $125. To those of you who, like me, grew up in the world of Quark Xpress, offset printing and warehouse distribution, that number is probably jaw-dropping. Welcome to the new world of Print On Demand (POD) publishing.

Let’s take a look out how the figures break down. I used CreateSpace, Amazon’s print on demand subsidiary for the actual production. Signing up for an account was just as easy as signing up for a KDP account. It was a case of inputing some personal details and how I wanted to be paid and I was good to go.

The hardest part of book production for me has always been the cover. Each one is an individual exercise in layout based on the thickness of the spine which, in turn, is based on the number of pages and the type of paper. This turned out to be handled very easily by CreateSpace. I inputed my trim size (the actual measurement of the book, in this case a 5.5 inch by 8.25 inch trade paperback), the number of pages and the colour of paper I wanted (a choice between white and cream) and CreateSpace gave me a template with the exact size of the cover I required.

I cheated on the next step. I sent the details on this template to Clarissa Yeo at Bookcoversale.com who does my ebook covers and she set up the cover for me. Clarissa does a very nice package deal where the cost of the print cover adds only $25 to the cost of the ebook cover. Her full print cover deal is $85, her ebook cover only costs $60. I am going to subtract the cost of the ebook cover from that of the print book cover since the ebook had already been released at this stage. Anyway, as far as I was concerned, that was the hardest part of the production out of the way.

Next up I bought a multi-book license for the Crimson page layout template from Joel Friedlander at bookdesigntemplates.com. This cost $97. Joel is a professional in this field and his templates, which use open source fonts, look great.

I could have laid the book out myself but using the template made things very easy. It also stopped me from making very basic rookie mistakes like having page numbers on blank pages. Now I know you’re thinking you said producing the book cost less than $125, Bill, and there’s almost one hundred bucks right there. You’re right too but I have already got 3 books in the Kormak series and I can use the template for all three of them so I am going to divide the cost by three, rounding it up to $33 because I am lazy. The fact is that I will be able to use the template for future print books in the series giving it a nice consistent overall look, that will drop the price even more.

It took me a couple of hours to cut and paste the manuscript into the template but the process was simple and doubtless will become more so as I become more familiar with it.

Once that was done, I saved the Word file as a PDF and uploaded it and the cover to CreateSpace. I waited a few minutes, did a basic check of the online proofs just to make sure everything was OK and then ordered a print proof. At the end of the initial creation process I decided to pay $25 for extended distribution which means the book can be ordered by ISBN from any bookstore.

I confess I cannot remember how much I paid for the proof copy but I am pretty sure it was under $20 since I chose the slowest shipping option. There were some errors (made by me) in the layout but otherwise the book looked really excellent. I corrected the errors in Word, uploaded a new PDF, got another proof sent and this time everything looked fine. I approved the book and a couple of days later it was available on Amazon and ready to be shipped.

Total cost to me: $123 or so, including a couple of proofs shipped internationally.

What about other costs such as editing, artwork etc, I hear you ask. Well, I had already paid for those for the ebook so I am writing them off. I think this is fair since most indie publishers will probably be releasing ebook versions of their work and quite likely before the print version.

In the end, producing is a print book is more work than an ebook, that is for sure but it is worth it. At the end of the day there is something really nice about having an actual book sitting on your shelves.

Father’s Day on the Assassin’s Road

Quite by coincidence I celebrated Father’s Day by reading the new Dark Horse Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus. This concerns the adventures of a man even less likely to win the Father of the Year Award than Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones. Ogami Itto travels Tokugawa Shogunate Japan pursuing his career as an unstoppable assassin. A man capable of slaughtering squads of highly trained ninja, scores of bandits and small armies of Ronin with his trusty dotanuki battle-blade, what makes his feats of butchery even more impressive is that he often performs them while pushing the pram containing his infant son, Daigoro. Ogami is the Lone Wolf of the title, Daigoro is the cub.

If the basic premise of a pram-pushing, sword-wielding super-assassin sounds ludicrous, I can assure you the manga takes it completely seriously. And by the time you’ve finished reading it, you probably will too.

First let’s get the negatives out of the way. This is a disturbing read in the way that manga can often be. Particularly in the early episodes the author, Kazuo Koike, seems devoted to shocking you with just how brutal and ruthless our hero can be, as he performs ever more reckless feats of child endangerment in his quest to get his quota of killings done. Itto is a man perfectly willing to toss his own toddler into the river as part of a trap for his intended victim. The passing ronin strips himself of his weapons and dives in to save the drowning child. Ogami Itto stabs him as he swims. It’s not exactly the stuff of heroic fantasy.

I confess I found some of the schemes the Lone Wolf uses, the ones that supposedly demonstrate what a brilliant and ruthless tactician he is, just a bit silly when I paused to think about them. Invariably I found myself wondering what this wandering ronin did with all the piles of money he collected from the people who used their life savings to hire his services as an infallible killer. And I was often puzzled as to what all this endless wandering around slaughtering people in a mercenary fashion had to do with our hero’s supposed quest for vengeance on the people who dishonoured him and killed his family. The series storyline is not without its flaws.

In the end though none of this mattered to me because, quite simply, Lone Wolf and Cub is awesome. In part, it’s the artwork, which is astonishing. It is not at all reminiscent of the pretty cartoonishness of a lot of modern manga. It has the darkness of the British comic books of my 1960’s youth, combined with an awesome dynamism in the storytelling that apparently heavily influenced a young Frank Miller. The landscapes and settings are often super-realistic and this is sometimes achieved with the simplest of techniques. In some of the stories the effects of walking through a snowstorm are achieved by the use of stippling. It seems so simple but by God, it works.

And Goseki Kojima, the artist, knows beyond any doubt how to tell a story. I forget which Hollywood director said that in a good movie you should be able to completely understand what is going on without the soundtrack. Kojima knows how to do this. Page sometimes follows page in Lone Wolf and Cub with neither sound effect nor dialogue and the story is conveyed to the reader by the art alone.

In part the strength of Lone Wolf and Cub comes from the atmosphere. Ogami Itto and his son are on meifumado, the road to hell and the reader is left in no doubt that this is the case. They wander through a film noir world of darkness and corruption where law and order is breaking down and society is crumbling. The book transported me back to a different time, not just Shogunate Japan (of which it is a realistic depiction according to people better qualified than me to say), but the 1970’s when it was written. It has all the bleak nihilism of the movies and books of that period, of spaghetti Westerns, clockwork oranges and men with no names.

At first reading I thought I detected spaghetti western influence in the storytelling style, then I remembered that Leone lifted scenes from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo movies shot for shot. In any case, it does not matter, we’re moving through a dark world where an honest man can be forced to become an assassin and reap a red harvest.

The small touches impress, and the quiet moments. Despite his willingness to sacrifice his son’s life along with his own, you are left in no doubt that there is a bond between Itto and Daigoru. And there are times when the child’s innocent view of the world he is being carried through is transmitted with a full-on sense of wonder. And even in this venal world there is moral complexity— men hire Itto to kill their friends out of political necessity and regret it all the while. Living Buddhas understand how their example is used to keep the peasantry docile. And Itto himself lives by his own code even as he abuses the honour of the people around him and the mores of his society to achieve his lethal ends.

I first read Lone Wolf and Cub many years ago in one of the small compilations of the stories. It was The Flute of the Fallen Tiger I think. I always wanted to read more. I am grateful to Dark Horse for giving me a chance to read the stories from beginning to end and in a format more suited to my ageing eyes.

The Man Who Came to Blog – Vincent W. Rospond

I first met Vince Rospond in Nottingham many, many moons ago. He was then North American Sales Manager for Black Library. This, the fact that he was a very affable chap and that he was from New Jersey were the things that stuck in my mind during that first meeting. We went out for dinner with some friends. At the time I had been watching a lot of the Sopranos, and they were on my mind. As you know the mob family also hails from New Jersey and something misfired within my brain. During the course of the evening I kept introducing Vince to people as Tony.  I don’t know why– he does not bear a startling resemblance to the Mafia capo. Anyway, he took it very well and the leg-breakers he sent the next day were comparatively gentle.

Over the coming years I never made this mistake again. We’ve caught up with each other since then in such glamorous jet-setting locations as Los Angeles, Prague (for the now infamous Games Workshop booze cruise) and Nottingham. Vince has always been knowledgeable and passionate about what he was doing. He is now putting his experience as a New Jersey mob boss (wait a minute, I think I am getting confused again!) to good use in an industry to which it is ideally suited, publishing, in particular its historical variant and I thought it might be interesting to have him talk about it here. Now, without further ado here is Vince…

When Bill King asked me if I wanted to do a guest blog on his site my first question was, “Really, are you sure that is safe?”  Bill has known me for about twelve years, but chances are few of you do.  I’m not sure I really know me, and I’ve known me all my life.  As it says in the title, my name is Vincent Rospond.  Currently, I am publisher and occasional author of history at my own imprint Winged Hussar Publishing, Osprey Publishing, and the occasion article for Warlord Games.  Prior to that, I was a long-time sales manager for the Black Library and a voracious reader.  Like many gamers, my interests run all over the place (oh, look a squirrel!), and while I try to focus on a couple of areas, my interests run the gamut.

First, why history and why are you bringing that into this magical realm?  For me, history serves as a foundation for many outward points.  As a wargamer it serves as a basis for learning tactics, planning, and setting up games.  My goal is to publish books on military history on Eastern Europe in general and Poland in particular because it is an area I know quite a bit about, many people really don’t have an understanding of this history, and if they think they do most of it is wrong.  To understand this however, I wanted to show people the classics that people of that era would use as a starting point, so some of my early publications are part of a military foundation – Caesar, Frederick and Marshal Saxe.  As, I move forward and as I get submissions this will expand to cover more eras and personalities. 

Most fiction has its basis in historical context, because we as readers need to know the story is plausible.  It might be heavily cloaked in a different veneer, but there is usually some basis in reality that we can comprehend.  But Mr. Rospond, you might ask, “what about mythology and legends?”  Well, there is the old saying that all legends are based in fact, but more importantly they were a form of history people used to explain their past.  I’m not saying they were very accurate histories, but in their pure sense they were histories.  I would argue that even science fiction has its basis in history.  If you look at a story such as War of the Worlds by HG Wells, you may say, “Aliens invade, outer space, death rays – what is this bollocks?”  But put it in context of an allegory of the Mongol Invasion or the Red Scare – but with ray guns – and you have the stuff that keeps English majors writing papers for years.

I’m not saying that you MUST use an historical context for any writing, but understanding history can help you craft your writing.  I know of an author who leaned heavily on, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Society, as background to write an SF and a fantasy book.  When I first met Bill he recommended the book, Legend, by David Gemmell to me.  It’s a great book where the hero dies – early, but his influence is felt throughout the story.  The point is that it hits a cord in the human understanding – it is the Trojan War, Thermopylae, The Alamo – anything where people stand against the odds.  Sometimes they win and it is heroic; sometimes they lose, but in such a way as to become legendary.  This is not always the case in fact, some live and die horribly, but we make them better or worse in our mind depending on the story we want to tell.  

Characters and characterization takes on a different tack. At a certain level we can accept worlds that are different from our own, but as readers we are less accepting of bland characters, even though bland characters make up most of the people around us.  This is not to say that people are boring (well maybe some people), but that in order to make a character enjoyable they have to rise above the norm, sink lower in our behavioral sense or fluctuate between the two.  Those in between are the “red shirts” of history or literature.  Occasionally they appear with a small part but are quickly killed or forgotten.  It is the faults that make characters memorable or “heroic”.  What makes bad history or literature is a person who never fails – that “superman” who wins over any odds.  What make a person truly heroic is to fail in order to succeed.  Many want their heroes without warts, but it is those warts that allow us to associate with a character or person.  A case in point would be Caesar.

I edited and published an edition of The Gallic Wars because I felt this was a great book that is often badly translated.  Many people regard The Gallic Wars as a historical narrative, but it is half history and half fiction; maybe fiction is a strong word.  Perhaps it is best to say that in some cases, Caesar stretches the truth rather than out-and-out lies.  When you read the text, Caesar is the center of the action and he rarely makes a mistake.  He visits exotic lands and discovers new animals.  While his subordinates contribute to most problems, he does admit some small defeats, because that makes him human.  But let’s consider this – the only reference we have for this story is Caesar and this story has come down to us through different editions.  We know Rome conquered Gaul, but what if it actually did in a different way than we have been led to believe?  It is the story that is important and in its pure form that is what makes well written history enjoyable.  A well written story then becomes a chronicle as well; this is why literature and history are intertwined in its most basic form.

Anyway, thanks for your time.

Feel free to let me know what you think about this and if you like, visit Winged Hussar Publishing at www.wingedhussarpublishing.com and look around as we grow our title list.We’ll probably be publishing some SF & F at some point as well.

The Inquiry Agent Free on Amazon

I thought I had better mention the fact that my Victorian detective novel The Inquiry Agent is free on Amazon today. I have cancelled the automatic renewal on Kindle Select and I won’t be renewing it in the foreseeable future so this may well be your last chance to pick the book up as a freebie. The Inquiry Agent is not very typical of my usual style or genre but it is, in many ways, the best book I have written and it’s one I am very proud of. If you need any more encouragement, here is the blurb.

London 1841: a city on the edge. Corruption is everywhere. The poor are starving in the streets. The wealthy fear an explosion of anarchy and insurrection.

Amidst the turmoil, a wealthy merchant and his spoiled, beautiful ward hire former Bow Street Runner Jack Brodie to recover incriminating documents from the lawless rogues that robbed them. It is no easy task even for a man with Brodie’s criminal connections because an old and vicious enemy has returned from the penal colony of New South Wales seeking vengeance for the slaying of his brother. As Brodie hunts through the thieves dens hidden in the rookeries of Dickensian London, it is only a matter of time before their paths cross and murderous violence ensues.

You can download the book free from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. It should be there until midnight Pacific Time on the 7th of July, barring glitches which have been known to happen. Go get it now! 

Floodland

Radka put up some more very impressive pictures of the recent Prague floods here. Go take a look. I think they explain the semi-Apocalyptic tone of my last post rather well. The rain has stopped now and I have temporarily suspended building the ark on our roof. I think the State of Emergency is over, in the city at least. The Metro is still not working, lots of parks are still closed off. I feel a strange urge to go and listen to the Sisters of Mercy now. And why not? It’s been a while since I heard This Corrosion

A Cosy Catastrophe

It’s been raining a lot here in Prague recently, to the point where I have been making my usual dumb joke about how if I had wanted weather like this I would have stayed in Scotland. The rain has gone on for well over a week now, sometimes a light drizzle, often a monsoonal downpour, pretty much always there. You can hear the quiet roar of it in the courtyard of our building at night. It’s like being caught beneath a very small waterfall. Whenever you go out for a walk there is always a faint hissing noise in the background. Against every window, the rain pitter-patters.

Of course, the river has been rising and rising, and, for those of us who remember 2002, that’s not a good sign. There’s a lovely pathway, wide as a street, that runs along the riverside near our flat. Cars can drive along it two abreast. At the weekends there is a farmer’s market there. At night in summer band’s sometimes play. There’s a cycle path and a large barge with a theatre and a cafe on it. When the weather is nice I take the baby for walks along the promenade, to where it joins up with another quiet path where people walk their dogs.

It’s not possible to do that at the moment. The whole area has disappeared beneath a flood of brown muddy water. The only thing visible are the tops of some metal signs. Ducks and swans now swim over the spots where they once waddled ashore to be fed.

A bit further down the river, near the The Dancing House is a bridge with a fine view of the gigantic white water rapids caused by the river in spate. An angry river is not like an angry ocean. The waves are stranger. There are areas where the water jets forward in a gigantic, unbroken curve, where the force of all those hundreds of tons of moving liquid makes it leap upward in a constant arc. Nearby are areas where the water is churned to white foam and right alongside those are muddy areas that look calm until you noticed the sinister power of the current. The flow is less visible to the naked eye but it is still there. Those things that look like floating branches turn out to be tree trunks carried from who knows where.

The Vlatva is normally a friendly presence in the city. Wide and calm, it runs through the town’s very heart. The castle looms over it. The Charles Bridge springs across it. Its banks are a place where you push the pram, walk hand in hand with your wife, sit and have a beer or a coffee.

Its recent transformation has something of the ominous quality of a horror movie. You look at it and you worry. You see news stories about people being killed and houses vanishing. Helicopters circle overhead constantly. Sirens call out all the time. You find yourself thinking about getting in extra baby food just in case, the kind that comes in glass jars, not powdered milk because if the power goes that will be difficult to make. You remember when the streets were filled with water and inflatable boats and Prague suddenly looked like Venice. The refrain from London Calling loops through your head— and meeee, I live by the river.

Radka and I took the baby out for a walk yesterday, over that bridge near the rapids. As the rain soaked through my coat, I found myself thinking about cosy catastrophes, of John Wyndham and John Christopher, of Ballardian Drowned Worlds. It was an obvious thought to a man of my generation and reading habits. I thought this must be what one of those things feel like in the early stage. What is ominous is that there is nothing you can really do. Everything is so normal, but its normalcy intensified. It’s only raining, its just raining more. The river is not its old friendly self. What was familiar is now a little threatening, like a twisted reflection of your hometown seen in a bad dream.

And yet the same TV that brings in all these shots of a country slowly vanishing under water shows you something else. You see pensioners on sticks and zimmer frames being calmly evacuated from those places by the river. You see flood barriers being built or moved into place. The helicopters are overhead, the troops are on standby. The whole vast slow organism of civil society moves in its sluggish way to deal with the problem. The metro may be closed but extra trams have been laid on to carry folks into work. People may have died but people are being saved. Things go on.

(Radka put up some pics here.)