Yearly Archives:: 2014

On cover art

April 21, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 3

Everyone agrees that the cover image on a book is crucial for success these days. At least, for anyone below the rank of megastar author, that is. J K Rowling could perhaps put out a book with a totally blank cover apart from the title and her name without impinging on sales, but there are very few of whom that can be said. For most authors, a good cover is an asset and a bad one will lose you sales.

But what exactly is a good or bad cover? It’s quite hard to pin down these qualities exactly, although most people recognise one or the other when they see them. A good cover is one that achieves all of the following: Read more »


When are you ready for a beta reader?

April 8, 2014 Writing musings 2

Having been a professional programmer for years, I’m quite familiar with the idea of beta testing and beta versions. When you write some code, you do your own (alpha) testing to check that it works, and when you’ve got it debugged to your own satisfaction you hand it over to someone else to be tested independently, and that’s beta testing. A beta version is something that’s being readied for release, but isn’t quite there yet.

So when I started editing ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, naturally I assumed that the same principle would apply: a beta reader’s role is checking out a version that’s had the initial kinks worked out, is tidied up but isn’t quite polished enough for publication. So it was quite a surprise to discover that not everyone sees it that way.

Read more »


Not THAT uncivilised, then

April 6, 2014 Writing musings 4

All secondary world fantasy writers have one problem in common: just how advanced is this imaginary world? How far has technology progressed? The answers, of course, are as varied as authors themselves. Fantasy societies can vary from stone age through to quite sophisticated steampunk cultures. It’s entirely up to the author to decide just what scientific discoveries have been made in the created world.

Obviously, whatever magic is in effect will have an impact on this. Teleporting powers will remove any need for mundane transportation, for example. Magic heating stones will replace coal or wood burning fireplaces. Instant wizard zapping powers mean that guns and explosives are unnecessary. All these aspects have to be considered.

Read more »


To DRM or not to DRM?

March 31, 2014 Publishing/marketing 2

I’ve spent some time this past weekend setting up my account on Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) preparatory to self-publishing ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ this autumn. I didn’t actually intend to do more than input a few basic details, but Amazon makes it incredibly easy to go on from there. So I entered my bank details ready for all those royalty payments (ha!), confirmed that I’m a non-US citizen for tax purposes and amused myself by generating a very bad cover from the built-in cover art creator.

It’s possible to go through the entire process of uploading the book, cover art, the whole kit and caboodle to KDP (and to CreateSpace if you plan a printed version), see what everything looks like and generally get things in place ahead of time. CreateSpace helpfully reformatted everything for me and told me how many pages there were (over 600 at font size 12 – eek!). KDP found 17 spelling mistakes, of which one was in fact an actual, genuine spelling mistake. It’s all very helpful. And at the end of it, the famous ‘Save and Publish’ button. One click, and there you go, your book for sale on Amazon. Read more »


Looking for beta readers

March 17, 2014 Writing musings 0

The time has finally come… The early sections of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ have been critiqued and revised on a chapter by chapter basis, and now it’s time to see how it works as a whole. So I’m looking for volunteers to beta read for me.

What is a beta reader? Basically, someone who will read the complete book and assess it from the point of view of a reader, and answer a few basic questions:

  • Is the opening engaging?
  • Is the plot easy to follow?
  • Are there any plot holes, or parts you didn’t understand?
  • Are the characters believable?
  • Did you get a good sense of place?
  • Did you lose interest anywhere?
  • Is the writing style readable?
  • Were you emotionally engaged (excited, sad, did you laugh)?
  • Is the ending satisfying?

I’ll be revising again after feedback, and then getting professional proofreading, so there’s no need for detailed reports on grammar, spelling or punctuation errors. It’s more of an overview of what works and what doesn’t.

If you’d like to volunteer, please email me at pmross AT


On US withholding tax

March 15, 2014 Publishing/marketing 1

Like everyone these days, I spend time randomly trawling the internet, reading tweets, clicking links, perusing blogs and in various other ways managing to kill vast amounts of otherwise productive time. But the great virtue of this is that every once in a while, I happen upon some really useful information.

Like US withholding tax.

What is it? It’s the 30% of royalties that Amazon retains on behalf of non-US authors selling through its online store in order to satisfy US tax laws. [Actually, it’s probably not just authors this applies to, but I came across it in that connection, and that might, in time, affect me, so I’m going to talk about authors here.] What does that mean? It means that any author not residing in the US will have to do some paperwork to satisfy the US tax authorities. Read more »


On ISBNs and other dilemmas

March 12, 2014 Publishing/marketing 1

So as I take baby steps towards possible self-publishing of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, I’ve found myself thinking about ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers – those long strings of identifying digits that most books seem to have). You’d think it would be a simple enough procedure – I need an ISBN (or ten, since that’s the minimum you can order), I contact the agency, here’s my money, ching ching, ISBNs are in the post. Well, not quite. There’s a 4-page application form, for a start, and a 10-page booklet of instructions, not to mention awkward questions like how many pages is your book and what price will you charge and who’s publishing it. Hmm. This needs thought. Read more »


Traditional publishing: why would I?

March 5, 2014 Publishing/marketing 4

As a reader, I’ve been a fan of self-publishing for some time now. While many self-pubbed works really would have been better strangled at birth, some of my best reads have been by authors who side-stepped the traditional route. As I inch towards self-pubbing my own work, I wondered just what it would take for me to sign a contract with a traditional publisher. What would the benefits really be?

Now I should, perhaps, point out the obvious here. I’m never likely to receive an offer from a publisher. I’ve no intention of submitting, I have no agent, I’m unlikely ever to sell enough myself to attract any attention. So this is purely hypothetical.

But let’s suppose, very hypothetically, that it’s happened, and I have indeed received an offer from a publisher to put ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ out to the masses. Let’s assume that it’s a most likely scenario, that is, not a telephone number advance, but not derisory. About $5,000 seems to be a standard amount these days, so let’s run with that, and assume a boiler-plate contract. What would be the pluses and minuses? Read more »


First reader

February 19, 2014 Current writings, The Plains of Kallanash 0

It’s always a scary moment, handing over a finished book to the first person to read it in its entirety. Will it work? Does the plot even make sense? Will they get the emotional parts, the jokes, the world, the characters? I’d expected the first reader to be a stranger, a random internet volunteer to beta read, but I got talking to my daughter about ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ and she wanted to try it.

I wasn’t expecting much. She’s not really into fantasy, apart from Terry Pratchett. She’s tried ‘Game of Thrones’ and found it too heavy. So although Kallanash isn’t grimdark or anywhere close, I thought it might be too long and tedious for her. I thought she might get bogged down in the weirdness of a full-on secondary world fantasy. I thought she might simply find it boring. Read more »


Character profile: Hurst

January 28, 2014 Character profile, The Plains of Kallanash 1

Hurst is one of the two main characters in ‘The Plains of Kallanash’. At the time the story opens, he is thirty six years old.

Like Mia, Hurst’s father was lead husband at a Karning. When Hurst was born, his father Tanist was already on the fourth line, despite being only twenty five. His mother was the fourth wife, and she and Hurst’s father became a settled couple the moment she joined the marriage. Hurst was their first child. The family moved steadily from Karning to Karning, and by the time Hurst was eleven, had reached the border, the eighth line on the western side. Hurst’s mother died when he was twelve, and Hurst grew closer to his father as a result. Read more »