My Writing Year – 2020

Intended publications were two novels and an anthology of short stories which were all underway, plus another anthology which was either going to happen or not, depending on submissions from fellow authors.

How did the year work out with my target?

 

Light at The End written during 2019, kicked off my writing year and by the time I’d read a couple of reviews I was glad I’d made plenty of notes. My experimental post-apocalyptic tale spawned a sequel. I had other projects on the go so I continued, as usual, spending a couple of weeks on any one book. The first part of Light at The End was out in January, so it took a few months for the sequel to appear. I was so caught up in that particular ongoing story that I was compelled to make it a trilogy. My post-apocalyptic world deserved my writing time.

I wasn’t too concerned that I might leave other projects behind while I worked on novels. Due to the rest periods that I give my manuscripts between edits, it allows for time to be invested elsewhere.

Top of my pile, of course, was Czech Mate, a standalone espionage thriller which had already been through the wringer with beta readers over a year before. I got as far as ten chapters using first-person POV, but it wasn’t working for me, and neither were some of the scenes. I changed direction with it a few times and then one day it started to gel when I added two new characters. Okay, it still took several full drafts to get it where I wanted it to be, but that’s part of our job as authors.

Time after Time was another new venture, an ‘invitation’ anthology. I had six original stories lined up and I was hoping for at least six from other authors, all on the theme of ‘Time’. I was delighted to publish with submissions from nine other authors—one of which was the foreword. Nineteen stories all told … .

My other collection was my latest individual effort, Shadow: and other stories. Story titles changed, the book title changed and so too did the cover. Twelve original tales for those who like a coffee-time or bedtime read. (No erotica–it’s catered for elsewhere).

Surely I had time to produce more than those?

You’re quite right—I did, and on some of those days when I needed to escape from the intensity of a post-apocalyptic world, a thriller or short stories, I offered my services to Katya–the ‘character’ I created to continue writing erotica in the background. Katya’s latest venture is a two-part novel called Secrets.

You might wonder how the ‘Katya’ stories have been produced so regularly. Many have been in my files for years as failed short stories or as multiple passages which until recent years didn’t inspire me to continue. If truth be told, when I set out into the world of creative writing I never envisaged myself producing erotica.

As usual, I enjoyed plenty of reading. Mainly it was indie books, but I also read a few paperbacks and reviewed those books which warranted good feedback. By the same token, I started but didn’t finish something in the region of ten indie books. There were a variety of reasons but for the main part, it was poor writing, poor formatting and lack of time spent by the author producing the work. I don’t permit time to read shoddy workmanship when I personally put in so much effort to create worthwhile stories.

I performed beta reading for several authors and as always was gratified to be told that I’d helped. I know what it means to be offered ‘guidance’. Feedback is the lifeblood of the author. Negative feedback is as important as positive feedback which I believe all writers must appreciate. Any writer who doesn’t pay attention to negative comments in the process is blind to their own issues.

Apart from reading and writing did I do anything else to improve my catalogue?

Yes, I redesigned several of my covers. I went on to produce my personal design for those which had previously been created by a professional. Those were Ten Days in Panama, Amsterdam Calling, A Taste of Honey, and the BTL trilogy.

Apart from all of the above, in October I cast aside my professionally-designed author website which I’d kept going for about ten years. I built a new website myself from scratch. Ironically, the total cost of my new website equated to about the same as my first one. I kept my domain name www.tombensonauthor.com

My writing was my priority throughout the year, as it should be but I gained a sense of accomplishment having dealt with all my covers and creating a new website.

Next year’s targets will be in my next blog post … in January 2021.

 Thank you.

Tom 

A Cover Story

Astute authors will recognise that irrespective of how good their story might be, it’s the cover which is the first point of contact with the reader (or ‘the customer’ if we’re honest).

I accepted early on in my writing career that if I wanted my books to be treated seriously then I’d have to part with cash, and not for vanity publishing—some people still do. In essence, I’d have to fork out before my hard work had produced any reward in royalties.

There are many more aspects which affect the success or failure of a book but for now, I’d like to stay on topic—covers.

It didn’t take much research for me to discover that poetry and short story anthologies attracted less interest than any other aspect of creative writing. Yes, as luck would have it, my first titles came into those categories, however, I’m a positive kind of guy and saw an opportunity. Here were two areas in which I could practice the dark art of cover design. Later, I would find another. 😀

My first novel took a year to write due to me also holding down a full-time management job. I produced my idea of a cover for Beyond The Law. Even with my artistic leanings, it was not an impressive sight, so let’s not go there.

For my next two novels, I bit the bullet, which is an option not many of my characters are offered. I paid a professional cover designer to cater for Ten Days in Panama and Amsterdam Calling. Both books sold steadily and a significant lesson was learned. I asked the designer to create a cover for Beyond The Law (later to be suffixed ‘Formation’. Like the other two covers, it was expensive, but the blow was softened when I saw the effect of a decent story married up to a good cover.

In less than six months, I received sufficient royalties from Beyond the Law to cover the cost of all of my first three covers. Needless to say, I went on to use the same designer for A Taste of Honey. When Beyond the Law – the trilogy was created with the addition of ‘Retribution’ and ‘Consequences I saw regular sales. 

I continued producing the covers for my short story anthologies as the books were published. Yes, they would sell, I thought, but not in sufficient numbers to warrant a hefty outlay on covers.

One interesting twist came when I wrote my magnum opus, A Life of Choice. This was a five-part, fact-based fiction series; a depiction of my military career, but I had doubts. I hoped it was written in an entertaining and engaging style, but it was simply a story I wanted to tell. I didn’t see it as a prize winner or a major money-spinner.

I designed the covers using the ‘Regimental Colours’ of the Royal Signals (my Corps), and I used a small representative graphic for each of the five stages. My theory was that the ‘colours’ would attract the eye of some of the thousands of Royal Signals soldiers past and present. Following a slow pick-up and a few good reviews, this series rapidly established itself as my top-selling story.

The only issue I had was the regular requests for it to be available in paperback. I experimented and it took several weeks but I managed to amend the end/beginning of the five parts to convert them into a paperback trilogy—the same story, in the same words but broken at different logical points in time.

I recognised a potential saboteur—overconfidence. I contacted my professional designer and gave her a simple brief, sending her photos of the three pieces of equipment to be featured, samples of the background colours and all the printed matter for front and back exterior. For example, apart from the blurb, each book in the trilogy has excerpts from three different reviews. It took a few weeks to get there and I was delighted with the designer’s solution.

An area that some indie authors fail to register is that paperbacks are formatted differently regarding the front and back matter. I took great care in presentation, as I’ve done with all of my paperback versions so that they mirror traditional books.

One aspect of this series I didn’t expect was how much it would be enjoyed by those who had never served. The primary target of any creative writer should be to provide entertainment and it gladdens my heart to know I’ve achieved my aim with this special story.

As if by magic, the paperbacks continue to sell. I’m delighted to report that they are a popular prize at the many military fund-raising events to which I donate signed copies of the trilogy. 

I recently felt that I’d gained sufficient knowledge and experience to try my hand again at the creative, challenging skill of cover design. It took a few days but I’ve refreshed the covers for the Beyond The Law trilogy. My versions are on trial for a couple of months.

Apart from poetry and short story anthologies, I said that later I was to find another area for which I could create the covers. Erotica is that area and not surprisingly there aren’t that many reviews although they are good. There are, however, plenty of sales. 😀

If you’re an author at whatever stage of your journey, please remember that a well-crafted book with a good cover is more likely to see a healthy return on the investment of your time and money.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you.