Sunday, 25 December 2011

Twenty ways to get an instant agent rejection

1.      Send a three or more page query letter.
2.      Start your book with a flashback.
3.      Start with a prologue (Yes - some experienced authors getting away with it).
4.      Get someone to write the query letter on your behalf.
5.      Confuse some common words - of/off, to/too, there/their/they're, past/passed, allay/ally, cash/cache, accept/except, bate/bait, sight/cite/site.
6.      Make lots of spelling mistakes and typos.
7.      Handwrite your query.
8.      Use lots of redundant expressions like. 'dark black', 'fiction novel', 'loud shriek' (quiet shriek anyone?)
9.      Send your query as an email attachment.
10.  Beg an agent to accept your work.
11.  Mention how many times you’ve been rejected by agents.
12.  Tell the agent how much your grandmother/aunt loves your book.
13.  Start by moaning about the quality of other books being written.
14.  Submit work which isn't finished.
15.  Lie to an agent. E.g. "Enclosed is the work you requested...."
16.  Don't include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the reply.
17.  Use another author's well known character or plot.
18.  Include lots of profanity on the first pages.
19.  Submit work less than 40,000 words long.
20.  Submit a first novel of more than 120,000 words.

From my e-book "An illustrated guide to getting published" Get it free at (or buy it at Amazon). There's a new version being produced which includes publishing at Smashwords and other places.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Write and publish a book in a week?

You can download the second edition of this book for free at downloads.htm or get it at Amazon for 77p / $0.99
UK link | US link

A few months ago I set myself the task of writing and publishing a book in just one week. I completed it within seven days and made the book available at Amazon. Free at the time!  The print version is in full colour but has been withdrawn until edition 3 is available.

So what did I write about? Simple. I put together an illustrated guide to getting published both in print and in e-book format. It wasn't a huge work so I added notes on editing your book, getting an agent, cover creation and promoting the finished work.

Now I'm getting quite familiar with this process, after all I have produced ten books in the 'A Vested Interest' series. I did make some new discoveries along the way though which naturally - I included in the book.

The major difference I found was, because this is a non-fiction book, that I had to include lots of screenshot graphics. Getting them right to display on the 600 x 800, 16 shades of grey screen of a Kindle took quite a bit of work because I also wanted them to display in colour on Android readers. The result was a compromise.

Here's the new things I found out:

  • It's quite easy to put links to a different area of a book.
  • Click a hyper-link in an e-book on the Kindle and it will open that page in the Kindle browser.
  • You can't really do a satisfactory drop capital on a basic Kindle although it's a lot easier now that 'styles' are recognised.
  • You can't left or right align a graphic other than on the current line.
  • MS Word has an absolute limit of 220dpi (dots per inch). Book publishers recommend 300 dpi. You can tell MS Word not to compress graphics but if you output the file as pdf it forgets what you told it.
  • You can print from Word to a pdf file where graphics are NOT compressed. 
  • If you put a screen capture from OneNote into Word it gets saved as 199dpi. The answer is to replace these with hi-resolution graphics later.
  • If you save a bulleted list from Word as a 'Web page, Filtered' file Word will not use the correct HTML but will use a bullet character (Alt 0149) and spacing. This looks stupid on a Kindle. I find the answer is to use the 'calibre' ebook management program to create an epub file and submit that to Amazon.
  • The Create Space Cover Designer looks very basic at first but is surprisingly versatile.
  • Mobi (Kindle) files are almost twice the size of epub (Sony/Nook) files.
  • Calibre makes the job of creating a multi-level contents page very easy.
Want free author help items? Try There are other freebies there too.

Friday, 18 November 2011

A plea to ebook users everywhere (but especially in the UK)

Every person who either reads, writes or publishes in the UK should know this:

  • The UK government has a declared intention of reducing carbon emissions.
  • The publication of paper books in the UK leads to almost a billion tonnes of carbon emissions each year. Newspapers and magazines each produce more than this.
  • Production and sale of an e-book involves just 3% of the carbon emissions produced by a paper version.

E-books make far more sense in today's world. It takes an enormous amount of energy to cut down and transport trees. It takes more energy to produce the paper, transport it, print it and distribute it. We have to use energy to travel to the shop and buy books, magazines and newspapers and then we have to carry them around to read them. When we've finished with them it takes more energy to dispose of them.

If you were a student which would you prefer to carry - six textbooks or a Kindle? If you like to read on holiday how about carrying an entire library with you? You can do that with an e-book reader.

E-books make environmental sense yet:

The government charges the full rate of VAT on the sale of e-books and e-zines but no VAT on paper books, newspapers or magazines. They say VAT is charged on e-books because 'it's a service.' Apparently the work of the printing industry in making and distributing the words of writers is not.

Every author in the world should be kicking up a fuss about this nonsense. It makes e-books in the UK 20% more expensive and holds back the industry. At a time when students need to cut back on their expenses, the government is making it cost them more if they choose to buy e-books.

Perhaps the government needs the extra tax income? Well authors earn more from e-book sales than from paper books; that means they will recoup the lost VAT in more income tax.

Every author should be pressing the UK government to remove the ridiculous tax on e-books. Let's bring down the cost to our readers, save those dwindling fossil fuels and at the same time help ourselves.

What can you do? There's an e-petition which we should be promoting about VAT on e-books. Please -

Do everything possible to get this petition to the 100,000 signatures level - the point at which it MUST be debated in Parliament. Even if you are not a UK author this still affects your UK sales.

We need to draw attention to this!

Petition to request the abolition of VAT on e-books

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Cover to Cover - How we produced the covers for our book series

If you search the Internet you'll find lots of advice on how to write and also lots about how to get published. Up to now the route has always been:
  • write the book
  • edit it
  • submit it to an agent
    • get rejected
    • submit to another agent
    • get rejected
    • revise the book
    • repeat 'submit to an agent
  • Either give up or self publish or, if you are one of the lucky few, negotiate a contract
  • Agent submits to a publisher.... and so on
Now however E-books have made it possible for many new authors to publish work that would otherwise end in agents and publisher's slush piles. You can test the water by releasing your book as an e-book, publicize it yourself (For how to do that read John Locke's excellent book 'How I Sold 1 Million... ') and then, if there's a demand, produce a paper copy. I wrote an e-book on the process of producing both the paper copy and the e-book version. You can either buy it at Amazon or get it free here.

Somewhere along the line though you'll need a book cover and there the advice stops. Granted there are websites which offer template solutions but most of them leave a lot to be desired and frankly - a book is judged by it's cover.

We've written and published five books so far in our A Vested Interest series and in the hope that our experience will help, here's what was involved in designing the covers.

We wanted the cover of this book to reflect what the story was about so we had to include:
  • DNA to indicate this was about medical science
  • A semi-transparent mechanical bug to show that technology was involved
  • A castle to represent the location Langston Castle in the book and to show there was a bit of history involved
  • An old mine tunnel to represent the secret underground base
Now Shelia and I are not bad at using graphics programs - we picked up that skill when we spent three years as illegal immigrants in Canada, supporting ourselves by building websites. So we took some pictures using a very basic digital camera and started putting together a cover. The actual process I will detail later but here's the result:
The original background image was a picture I took of Blackett Level near Allendale, Northumberland. It was a little overpowering so I faded it out by putting a semi-transparent white layer over the top. Into that I merged a picture I took of Langley Castle and that DNA picture. The 'bug' was inspired by those in the film 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. On the e-book copy we moved that to the other side. Later we added the Triplet family coat of arms to help identify the book as part of a series.

The plot of this book involved an unpleasant secret buried in the family for almost a thousand years. The secret was revealed in an old diary. To reflect this we created a cover looking like an old book and featuring the coat of arms of the Triplet family. The old book was to be dark colored to reflect the title but when we got the first proof back from the publishers it was almost black. The final version was a lot lighter. For the old book I scanned an old copy I have of Uncle Tom's Cabin and then removed the text. With the aid of my son Adam we created a 'coat of arms' and then turned it and the book cover text gold.

On this one we didn't put the coat of arms on the spine since it was already on the front cover and the spine is much narrower.

Book 3 - No Secrets
No Secrets was very much a continuation of Dark Secrets so we decided to use the same layout. Obviously we couldn't use the same image on the front so chose a Celtic knot instead, symbolizing eternity. Of all the covers it's the one we are least happy with and it may change.

Book 4 - Stones, Stars and Solutions
In this book the Triplets travel the world visiting pyramids and other locations while following clues left in an ancient document. One of the locations is Death Valley, another is the Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico. We started with a black and white picture of Death Valley which we colored dark blue. To that we added the pyramid viewed through a 'window' on the front cover and framed in vegetation from the jungle in Mexico. On the back we added our idea of the power mechanism revealed at the end of the book.
People liked this cover so much they asked if they could use it as a screen background. We obliged with a version without the text, coat of arms or vegetation. Find it here.

Book 5 - Leap of Faith
In this book there's a location Spirit Canyon in Arkansas. It was one of the places mentioned in Stones, Stars and Solutions and also appeared in No Secrets. Spirit Canyon features a stone cabin which you can only get to through a cave and a waterfall. We wanted to show this place on the cover. The problem is that though we know it's location, the actual place doesn't exist so we had to make it with bits and pieces of other pictures.
For a book cover you need high resolution pictures because the file you send to a printer is 5,700 by 3,900 pixels in size although the image I need is 3,510 by 2470 pixels. I start with a template document from the printer. It's actual size depends on the size and thickness of the book. If you use CreateSpace as your publisher this template is worked out for you when you upload the book contents. It can be a little difficult to find but it's there.

Here's what we started with:

  • a picture of a log cabin in Texas
  • A cave in Arkansas
  • A woodland picture in Arkansas
  • A stone cottage near where we lived
  • A picture taken inside the old lead mine at Swinhope Moor, England
  • a blue eye

   ...and here's what we ended up with
In case you wonder, here's where the joins are...

Now this picture is a little busy for a book cover and it's not perfect. I chose to add text with a semi transparent background to hide the imperfections.

Making a cover like this isn't hard. You just need a computer with lots of memory and a decent painting application which can use layers, masks, feathering and  b├ęzier text. The industry standard program is PhotoShop, but there are others such as Corel PaintShop Pro or The Gimp which can do the job and are much less expensive. There are lots of tutorials available on the web explaining exactly how to merge images so I don't plan on explaining this here.

 I'm still not happy with the front and spine text on the cover since although it's fine on a printed book it fails to stand out in the smaller versions used for e-books and at Amazon. The spine text could be made clearer by turning it through 90 degrees but I, for one, hate having to turn my head sideways to read the text on book spines. I'm also a little dubious of the base of the stone cabin which doesn't quite fit on the ground correctly. I probably need to add some weeds here to cover the join.

Now - I've explained how we chose the covers. What are your thoughts? Which cover do you like the best and which do you think we should change?

Update April 2012

We've now added an additional book 'Regret and Retribution'. In this book some of the action occurs on the top of a mountain in Arizona where the characters come under attack by a hostile alien. Fortunately, the alien  takes human or animal form, so I didn't have to come up with what he/she looks like. I used a modified sky scene from Death valley (used already in Stones, Stars and Solutions) and to that added a mountain top scene. The actual mountain used was Helvellyn, a mountain of England's Lake District. In fact I used it twice, once in the background and again, mirrored and stretched in the foreground. On the rear mountain I superimposed a modified picture of  a galaxy. The whole thing was darkened and a faint blue glow was added at the edge of the foreground mountain.. Finally I added the cover text. The trick here is to make sure that it's readable even at a thumbnail size used on Amazon's website. Here's the result:

Update July 2012

Consequences was released at the end of July 2012. It's cover shows a moment when Donna was released from a 'mindstorm'. It's dusk, raining hard and misty. The helicopter searching for her is driving the rain and Donna holds her hair to prevent it lashing her eyes. She spots something on the ground and reaches for it. We used the same mountain top but added storm clouds. The figure of the woman caused a few problems, it's actually made up of four different images. She's making an unusual movement - reaching with her left arm over her right knee. I would have swapped arms but Shelia, who has long hair, told me 'Once you have your wet hair in a strong wind under control, you don't risk letting go.'

Update November 2012

Here's our most recent book cover for 'Ashes to Ashes'. We start this book with the aftermath of an alien possessed woman running wild in the mine complex. Death plays a big part in this book at it's beginning and that is reflected in it's cover
Here's just the front of the book:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bio-terrorism and the cure for the common cold

Sooner or later someone will use a bioterrorism technique to release a pandemic which actually helps people! It could be that the common cold is it's first target.

How to catch a cold

Everyone knows how easy it is to catch a cold but there are some things about the process that aren't common knowledge. Let's try an experiment. While you read this don't touch your eyes!

Imagine someone with a cold gets in a lift. They sneeze and a fine mist of spray spreads everywhere. It quickly settled though. They get to their floor and exit the lift. You call the lift from two floors down and the first thing you do when you get in is to press the button to select your floor. A button covered by a fine spray of cold virus.

So now you have the cold virus on your finger. Not a big problem, it's unlikely to get through the skin on your finger. Of course you could infect yourself with a cold by now eating something.

Touched or want to touch your eyes yet?

As you've probably found out by now, we touch our eyes all the time and as soon as you do, that  virus finds a warm, moist very thin membrane and promptly infects you. Ever noticed how a cold can make your eyes sore?

Deliberately spreading contagion

Now imagine a terrorist intent on using biological warfare. A good way to spread contagion would be to spread their substance on anything which people frequently touch. Lift buttons, push plates on doors, door handles, shopping cart handles, magazines in a shop,  newspapers and books in a library. Money! Forget the idea of sending letters. There are a huge number of ways of spreading any virus using things we touch.

Why there's no cure or vaccine

Now imagine a genetic researcher who has made a fantastic discovery. He/she has come up with a genetic fix which will forever stop people from catching the common cold.

Would you buy it assuming it's 100% safe and costs little? Of course you would!

So if this had been produced do you think you would get the opportunity? Frankly you would have as much chance as a celluloid cat being chased by an asbestos dog through the fires of Hell!

"Why?" I hear you ask. "If it was safe why wouldn't it be available?"

The answer is simple. The people who would be marketing this are the very people who make a fortune  every year by selling cold remedies. Are they ever going to willingly give up those billions of dollars of regular income?

That's why there are really no serious research projects into curing or preventing the common cold. None of the so called remedies actually cure a cold. If you buy them you might, if you are lucky, get some slight relief from the symptoms ...and you can get that effect with a simple home remedy. Here's the recipe:

An effective homemade cold remedy

In a tall glass:
  • add 2 fingers depth whiskey (cheap stuff)
  • add 2 fingers depth honey
  • add 2 fingers depth lemon juice
  • Fill the glass with hot water, stir well and drink.
  • Go to bed with a good book and relax or sleep it off.
If you find your symptoms are not better after an hour or so repeat.

Now I know what some of you are going to say. "I don't like whiskey," but believe me - this tastes nothing like it. It tastes good, relieves a sore throat, relieves congestion and after three of them you won't care about the cold!

OK - free advice over; now let's consider something else.

What bio-terrorism has to do with a cure

During the course of researching the first of our 'A Vested Interest' books - 'Immortality Gene' I had occasion to investigate gene therapy. It would be possible to alter a virus so that it inserts genes which prevent the common cold. If the virus remained infective, eventually everyone would find themselves immune to the cold virus.  Imagine a genetic researcher has produced that cold cure. It really works and he knows it's safe. But he/she can't market it for the reasons explained above. He/she can't announce it either without putting their life at risk. There's a multi-billion dollar industry at stake here remember?

The researcher knows the people of the world want the cure though. Does that researcher have the right to deny them it? Should they risk the wrath of the drug companies to make it available?

I think you'll find that the researcher would adopt the bio-terrorist tactics to release his/her product.

Sooner or later some well meaning person will do this!

Covid-19 Update

The common cold is just one of a group of viruses called corona viruses. At the end of 2019 a new corona virus appeared - COVID-19. We have little immunity to it and it became a global pandemic in 2020. The method it spreads by is exactly the same as with the common cold. As of today, 1st December 2020 there have been 63.3 million cases of it identified. There are probably far more cases where the symptoms have been minor and passed off as 'a cold'.
What makes Covid-19 different is that it does kill people. So far 1.47 million people have been identified as dying from it. There is now evidence that 10% of those survivors identified as Covid-19 cases will suffer a degree of permanent lung damage and 'long Covid'.
The older you are the more likely it is that Covid-19 will affect you severely and may cause your death. By the time you are in your 90s you have a 16% chance of death from it. Why is that?

I suggest the effect is due to the accumulation of senescent cells. That's cells in your body which contain damaged DNA but not badly damaged enough  to cause cell death. It's these cells in your body which produce the effects of getting old.

So what causes this damage? 

  • Radiation you've been exposed to either natural background radiation or man made radiation will do this.
  • Chemicals can do this. Smoking, tars, solvents, heavy metal compounds, insecticides, herbicides, artificial flavors, food colors and sweeteners, preservatives and more.
  • Viruses can do this. Any virus, including that common cold virus can leave senescent cells which accumulate and eventually kill you.
Covid-19 and the 10% damage it causes may well be enough to tip those affected by aging into death but even those who survive will have their lives shortened. You need to protect yourself. Not only do you need to protect yourself from Covid-19 but also protect yourself from catching the common cold. It's time to press those pharmaceutical firms to finally create that anti-cold vaccine.
In the meantime - wear the masks, wear gloves, wash your hands, keep socially distanced, protect your eyes and try not to touch  them.

If you found this post interesting, will you help us? Download a FREE copy of our book 'Immortality Gene' from (the one you should go to bed with)
Even if you never read it (but we hope you will) - it will help our rankings. If you want the iTunes version that's
Look - a FREE e-book

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A Vested Interest book 6 - Regret and Retribution

In case you are wondering a sixth book is on the way which we've titled 'Regret and Retribution'.

What about book 7? Well A Vested Interest was split when it got to 172,000 words. Regret and Retribution is currently at 78,000 words and nowhere near the end.

Picture by Ogarzong

Included in Regret and Retribution is a new location - Cayambe in Ecuador.

What's odd is that near Cayambe we needed a major cement factory and a new deep water harbour. We did a little research and discovered just a few miles to the northwest a major new cement factory has been opened at Otavalo. What about the deepwater port? A new one is planned, just where we need it at Manta. Draw a line from it to Cayambe and it passes through the Ecuador capital, Quito. How very convenient!

This particular location is essential. Nowhere else on Earth will do. Sooner or later this place will be a very important place, and not just in our book. I wonder why? Post your ideas here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

What's 'A Vested Interest'?

Back in March 2007 my wife, Shelia Chapman, started writing a story about what would happen if people lived forever. It featured a character Donna Rigden, an American, who crossed the Atlantic to live and work in the UK.

The male lead at the time was that of Richard Triplet, basically a nice guy but handicapped by too much money.  Yes - I know - you wouldn't mind a handicap like that.

I got involved helping Shelia with research and the male point of view. We felt it was important to write a plausible plot, one which even if it wasn't real, sounded real.

For about six months we worked on the story, adding characters as we needed them and sub-plots galore. Eventually we had a 700 page book and still no title or any idea of how it was going to end. We realized that we had the makings of a good story but it was far too long. Reluctantly we started deleting. Out went the long descriptive bits of Donna's journey. We killed the car chase by fake police; we lost the breakfast where Donna talked about cutting throats; we deleted Brenda's murder; we removed the reporter Jack Brantley. In the end we had a story 150,000 words long and no ending or title.

For a year almost it languished unfinished before suddenly I got an idea for an ending and with it came a title 'A Vested Interest'

We ended up with a story 172,000 words long, complete with loads of factual and grammar errors. OK the fun bit was over - time to get down to work.

It took us over two months to go through the book and correct everything. Having done that we went through it again. By the third time we went through it we began to feel it was ready for publication and set about investigating how that was done.

Extensive research on Internet indicated we needed an agent. Curtis Brown was selected and off went sample chapters and covering letter. A month later we had our first rejection. 'Well,' we thought. 'J.K Rowling had Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone rejected 15 times so that's not a disaster'. Off it went to another agent who rejected it also. After out third rejection we did a little more research.

  • Prologues are not a good idea in a first book.
  • Those first 30 pages have to get the reader hooked and wanting more.
  • A first book shouldn't be too long.
Our book had a prologue, no hook until chapter 3 and 172,000 words. Out came the prologue, in went the hook and we cut the book again ruthlessly but couldn't get it below 152,000 words. There was only one option - we had to split the story between two books. I didn't think it could be done without destroying it.

Shelia eventually found a way of doing it and she convinced me by saying 'We can put back some of that stuff we cut earlier.' So we did it.

Of course when we started writing again, we got more ideas and in no time at all we found the second book was too long again - so we split that too.

...and the 'A Vested Interest' series was born.
Unlike Stephanie Meyers we don't plan on making her greatest Twilight series mistake. We are dealing with immortals so the saga will go on (No - not vampires - a different kind of immortal)

That is... if you tell us you want more.