Astounding Journeys: Fantasy Novels and Series Starters Giveaway

 

Hello everyone! This May I'm going to be part of a special promotion via my newsletter, the Astounding Journeys giveaway. Pick from a selection of free first in series fantasy novels, all of which have an emphasis on a quest or journey.

To get access to these books, all you have to do is click here.

Of the titles available, my recommendation would have to go to Dawn Rising, by A.F.E. Smith. I was lucky enough to get to read this book in its early beta stages, and I was captivated by the writing style and fascinating characters. Follow Alyssia Gale, a misfit who's never felt she belonged, as she's suddenly pulled into a dark and dangerous fantasy world; one she's only ever seen in her dreams.

GODDESS SAGA SALE

As well as this exciting giveaway, I'll also be doing an Amazon US sale for my YA Fantasy series! Now you can snag the complete Goddess Saga trilogy for under $2.00. But be quick, as the promotion ends 15th May...

Please note the $0.99 deal for The Goddess's Blessing will start on 11th May (due to an Amazon glitch), so keep it bookmarked for then!




 

 

 

 

How to Self Publish A Colouring Book

Hello! Well, it's been a tough year, as we pass the anniversary of when this pandemic really started to blow up and disrupt our day to day lives. Being a frontline healthcare worker, this was very frightening, especially with so many unknowns, but I was one of the lucky ones who had a very supportive workplace, and we adapted very quickly to remote consulting.

However, even with the success of the vaccine rollout and the hope of things returning to normal on the horizon, it's left a lot of people with overwhelming anxiety. And something that's come into vogue over the last decade to combat this has been the advent of adult colouring books.

Being an artist myself, I thought it would be fun to get into this area, and now I have two published colouring books in my Birds of the World Series.



Now this is very different to publishing a novel, so I thought it would be helpful to share how I produced these two books.

1. Plan what sort of book you want


There are various types of colouring book out there, from animals and faces to mandalas and abstract shapes. Think about what type of colouring book you want to make. For me, I love all things bird, and so I use birds and nature backgrounds for my lineart. But there's plenty of options to choose from, so pick something you're passionate to dive into.

You'll also need to plan how many images there will be in total.

And this should go without saying, but don't use other people's art unless you've paid for a commission!

2. Draw some art!

The biggest and most labourious step is to draw the images. This can be done either digitally or traditionally. For the digital approach, you can use art programmes such as Photoshop, Krita or FireAlpaca, or any vector-based image software. Images need to be certain dimensions (for self publishing, look at the book size templates on Amazon KDP and pick one), and the resolution needs to be 350dpi or higher, else the lines will look blurry when printed out.

For traditional media, create your pieces, ink them, then scan them in to make a digital copy (again need to scan at 350dpi or higher).

I opted to group my birds by continent, so each book will feature birds of one continent only (e.g. Africa).

If you are doing very intricate lineart, make sure to take breaks often and don't rush. I actually developed tedonitis in my right hand when I was making the first book because I was impatient to get the pictures done. And who says doctors make the worst patients? ;)

3. Additional images

Now you've created the meat of the book (the images to be coloured), there are a few other bits to do. Most colouring books have a 'this book belongs to' page, and I like to also include a test page- this will help readers/ colourers check what pencils/ pens are suitable to use. The paper for self-published books isn't as absorbant as formal artist paper, so bear this in mind, and advise readers to put some paper/ card between pages so as to not spoil the other pages.

I also made a border image to keep with the nature theme of the book.


4. Putting it together

Now this is where things can get complicated. Some artists use Powerpoint to lay out the images- I didn't find this effective myself as when you save to PDF the quality goes way down, and it makes for very blurry images.

One option is to use Adobe InDesign, which is a desktop publishing software. It's part of the Creative Cloud, but it's very expensive on its own, so unless you have a friend with it or have the Creative Cloud anyway, it's quite a pricey way to go about this stage.

However, there is also a third way, which is the way I used: Scribus [https://www.scribus.net/]. This is a free, open source desktop publishing software. Now be warned- it doesn't have the easiest user interface, and what you see on screen doesn't always correlate to changes you made (sometimes you need to restart the software), but there are a lot of tutorials out there, and once you've got the hang of it, it's pretty straight foward.


My books feature some bird facts along with the images, so I made a template to accomodate for this. Scribus allows you to make image boxes and text boxes, and I used these to make template pages. I then duplicated these for the amount of images needed.

These are some things to also consider:

a) Do you want the images to bleed to the edge of the page, or be within a border? Keep in mind it can be difficult to colour at the spine as there will be some overlap from the other pages.

b) Do you want to put images on the same page back to back? Some people like to cut out and frame their coloured piece, so putting two images together means the other image will have to be sacrificed. Also there is the issue of colours bleeding through the paper which may spoil the other image and render it non-colourable.

5. Proof-reading and checking it all over

Once you've added the images, added text and tweaked the intro pages, be sure to check it all over to make sure the images are on the right pages. For me, I needed to keep the left hand page blank to ensure all the images were on separate pages.

With that all checked, save the file as a print-ready PDF at the highest quality so the images remain crisp.

6. Making the cover

For this part, take a look at other similar colouring books and see what styles catch your eye. In my case, I like a darker background with a colourful border, so that's what I incorporated into my covers. I also tried to feature the most well-recognised bird from the continent.

To turn this into a paperback cover, you first need to know how many pages your book will be, then go to the Amazon KDP help page [https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/cover-templates]- this page lets you generate a cover template, which will show you where to align the covers and avoid the areas that will be cut to size.

This file will also need saving as a print-ready PDF, at 350dpi quality. Photoshop does this, but if you don't have Photoshop, just make a new template in Scribus, put the image there and save it that way.

7. Publish via KDP


Sign in to your KDP Amazon account (this is slightly separate to your normal Amazon account but uses the same password). On the main screen, select '+ Paperback' from the menu. I mean, you could make the colouring book an ebook, but it would make it a bit tricky to colour for those who use traditional media!

The first page is the Book Details- this is where you put the title, subtitle, author, description [blurb] and keywords. There a lot of tutorials on keywords out there, this is an important element not to overlook so do research into this. It's not too different to novels, but of course there will be specific words for colouring books.

Click Save and Continue, and here you upload the contents. Choose the size of the trim (which you should have picked earlier to make sure your images were the right size). I opt for white paper as this is easier to colour on, and I have a bleed so I check that option as well. Upload the PDF of the INTERIOR and the PDF of the COVER, then use the previewer tool to check things are lining up. KDP will not let you continue if there are massive errors.

Save and Continue again, and lastly is the book pricing and which territories you want to sell it in. Pretty self explanatory!

Now at the bottom of this page is the option to ask for 'proof' copies- these are test copies that you pay for to see what the physical book comes out like. I strongly recommend doing this, as I found a few errors that I hadn't picked up digitally, and you want your book to look as professional as possible.

And then, once you're happy, click Publish!

8. Teething problems

With paperbacks, Amazon are very strict about quality, and you need to follow their guidelines. I had a few problems with this initially, as some of my pages weren't bleeding when they should have been (that sounds so morbid) and I couldn't have text on the spine as there is a minimum page limit for this. But eventually I ironed things out, and hey presto, my colouring book was live!

Both volumes are available to buy now:


And so that's it- simple, eh? I have to say this was far more time consuming that when I published my novels, but I had fun learning a new process, and I've had some good feedback so it's certainly been worth it.

Have you wanted to publish a colouring book? What sort of subject would you do? I'd love to know!

Also, if you know any aspiring artists who've wanted to look into making a colouring book, feel free to share this post. They may find these tips useful.








My Writing Process


So I've been writing since I was 14, and I've learnt a lot about writing (as you can imagine). These have come from all sorts of sources, initially books (both instructional and from reading fantasy fiction) and advice from other writers I met, and then after the YouTube boom I've gleaned a lot of fantastic stuff from there as well. Some channels I recommend are:

Hello Future Me

Just Write

Brandon Sanderson (in particular his educational lectures)

Overly Sarcastic Productions (their Trope Talk series)

Resonant Arc (though they focus most on video game stories a lot of elements carry over into novels)

Tale Foundry

From a combination of all of these things, I've now standardized a lot of my writing process, so this post will go through how I construct a novel, from initial idea to finished, published product!

Step One- Ideas and Outlines

As you may have read from my author interview, the original idea for The Binding came when I was taking some blood samples to the lab during my first hospital job. I had a scene emerge in my mind—a girl sitting alone in a forest, because she wanted to protect her heart. I took this concept and expanded it, creating the Binding spell, laying down some rules, and then went on to develop Eliza as a character. All this I jotted down in a Word document as a series of questions to help flesh things out.

I even did an illustration of the scene!

Once I had a clear idea of what the general themes would be, I then wrote out the outline for the story. I am very much a planner type of writer, and I find it easy to follow an outline rather than write and see where things go. The outline isn't set in stone, however, so if a character interaction changes the direction of a story I will adapt and re-outline. I had to do this for The Goddess's Blessing (the last book of the trilogy), which changed the second half of the story entirely from the original.

Step Two- First/ Second Draft


With the outline complete, now comes the hard part- the actual writing! This means putting rough chapter markers in the original outline, and then fleshing everything out. I do tend to refine quite a bit- which is where I will write 400-500 words and then go back and tidy it up a few times. A lot of authors warn against this as you can get stuck in the same scene for ages, but I've found this method good for me, as I can do this relatively quickly and move on. This saves time later with the first edit, and allows me to focus on expanding things like characterization (which is one of my weaknesses) rather than the technical parts.

I also highlight or make a note of areas I can't quite figure out and will need to come back to. I keep the notes in a separate Notepad document.

This is also the bit where I can re-write the outline if the story seems to be going in another direction. This helps me keep things flexible without abandoning structure altogether.

Step Three- Editing

The bit most authors dread, but I actually find the first edit quite fun! This allows me to inject more characterisation, spruce up dialogue and cut down on unnecessary filler words ('just', 'even', 'eyes widened' are particularly bad ones for me). I quite like Brandon Sanderson's tip where you only focus on one thing per edit (so one edit for technical issues like word choice/ sentence structure, one edit for characters/ dialogue, one edit for plot points etc).

So edit 1: adding more character thoughts/ reactions, smoothing out/ refining dialogue and ensuring a consistent voice, removing filler words, removing too much 'tell' areas, also writing down a list of overused words

Edit 2: world/ geography consistencies, temporal consistencies (how long it takes to get from one place to another), adding in additional relevant worldbuilding or removing irrelevant details

Edit 3: checking for accurate word choices, checking my list of overused words and cutting these down (I use the 'Find' option in Word for this), making sure I'm using consistent hyphens/ spellings/ capitalisations

For each run-through of the story I'll also try and correct any typos I come across.

At this stage it's also good to send the story to some trusted beta readers who can give external feedback to point out things you might not have thought about.

Step Four- Polish

This bit I find the most tedious, as at this point I'll have read through the manuscript so many times. For this I take a slightly different approach to editing.

Once I'm happy that the story itself has been trimmed and tided and the plot and character elements are as good as they can be, next comes the technical part- to catch grammar/ spelling errors/ typos. I start from the last chapter and work backwards, using an e-reader to read the text aloud. I use Free Natural Reader and Balabolka for this- both are free to download.

This is really good for catching typos and tense changes, and is better than reading aloud yourself as the e-reader will always read what's on screen, whereas your brain may insert or inject words that aren't there. Don't be tempted to set the reading speed too fast- you should get it to match the tempo of your own reading speed.

Reading backwards also stops you getting caught in the 'rhythm' of the story, as this can make you overlook thing as you've already read it so many times.

Once you've self-proofed, this is when you should send the manuscript to a trusted editor so they can check for any other remaining errors. Different types of editor edit for different things so make sure you pick the right type.


Step Five- Formatting

This step used to be a huge headache, but now I have ready-made templates from my previous books it's super easy. Definitely learn to use Word's Styles Feature, as this makes it much quicker.

Once you've made the corrections from the editor, it's time to make the book publishable.

Ebooks and paperback books have specific formatting (to make sure there's no misaligned text or random blank pages) and these need to be adhered to, to make sure the books look right. Different distributors also have different formatting (Amazon vs Smashwords) so make sure you have separate templates for each.

A new site has come around called Draft2Digital which is another way you can format your books. I used them recently and their user interface is quite straight-forward.

Step Six- Cover and Synopsis

Fortunately I am an artist as well as a writer, so this saves me having to hunt down a cover artist. Of course making a cover is still time-consuming and needs to be the best it can be, to attract readers. To know where to start about covers, I recommend David Gaughran's free course, where he covers not only this but pretty much everything you need to know about self publishing.

And then comes the synopsis- the bane of most writer's existence, but oddly enough I don't find it too much of a hassle. I put this down to being a doctor- I have to document patient stories in their medical notes succinctly and in summary, so it's something I'm quite used to!

It also helps to read the synopses of other books in your genre to get an idea of what tone to go for.

Step Seven- Preparing for Publishing

And so the last step involves checking and re-checking to make sure the books are ready to go.

On Amazon KDP, there is a preview tool to check ebooks and paperbacks, and you can also order proof copies of paperbacks to check they print properly and that the cover looks good.

A look inside the proof copy of The Goddess's Blessing

Once these are all ready, you're ready to go live!

If there are any errors Amazon picks up, they will notify you so you can make the changes. But if all goes well, your book will pop up on the market place, ready for your readers to devour.

And so these are the steps I take in my writing process. Of course this isn't the only way to do it and there are thousands of other methods out there. Are you a writer? What works for your in your process?

My Top Five Favourite Fantasy Settings



Fantasy has always been my favourite genre, and one of the things that appeals most to me are the expansive worlds. Writers can be so creative and build entire societies, cultures and people that are just fascinating to dive into. I'm no exception of course, having created the world of Azaria for my novel series.

Of course, Azaria wouldn't be what it is without inspiration, so here is a list of my top five fantasy locations. They cover a variety of media, so without further ado...

1. Gaia (Final Fantasy IX)



Gaia is the main world on which the video game Final Fantasy IX takes place. It is made of four major continents- Mist, Outer, Lost and Forgotten. The Mist Continent, as the name implies, is engulfed in a strange substance known as Mist. This has been harnessed into fuel, and so technology and transport is very steampunk. Lindblum is a great example of this, being the biggest and most advanced of the nations:

Then there's Alexandria, which is steeped in much more tradition and has a history of empire and war.

One of the most unique nations is Burmecia. This is situated in an area where it never stops raining, and is inhabited by humanoid rat-like people.


What appeals to me most about Gaia is its mix of old and new technology. It's steampunk at its finest, and yet it also allows for magic and greater supernatural powers to co-exist (such as the summons). I really adore the blend of science and magic, and is definitely something that will inform one of Azaria's future settings.

2. Thedas (Dragon Age series)


I was only introduced to the Dragon Age cames relatively recently, but the world of Thedas definitely held my interest. It's much more gritty and grimdark than the settings I tend to prefer, but it lends itself well to the story it wants to tell. There are a mix of countries, each with their own conflicts and agendas, but there are also greater threats, such as The Blight, which require co-operation to keep under control, and even the Chantry, the church that wields as much power as any of the nations.

The first Dragon Age came takes place mainly in Ferelden, which is an England-based country, ruled by a monarchy. It has strong medieval vibes, with not much in the way of technological advancement and feudal systems, and dogs are popular pets. It's the little details like this that make the setting fun, and somewhat relatable (since I live in the UK).


Then there's the pompous Orlais, modelled on France, with their eccentric nobility and lavish customs. They have an imperial ruling system. They also have quite the disdain for Fereldens, who likewise can't stand the Orlesians (much like the age old rivalry between the French and English). The stark differences between the two nations are revealed the best in the third game, Dragon Age Inquisition.


Thedas also has the city states of the Free Marches (much like the ancient city states of Italy), the Spanish/ Portugese inspired Antiva, and the Roman-empire styled Tevinter Imperium. I really do like the basis in real-world locations, as it gives the setting a dash of realism and makes the conflicts between the nations a lot more grounded. It is quite Europe-centric, though, so it would be great to see something similar done for another culture.

3. The Old Kingdom (Sabriel series)


This was one of the first book fantasy worlds I really appreciated. The Old Kingdom is the region north of Ancelstierre, and the two regions are separated by the Wall. This protects Ancelstierre from Free Magic and the Dead, and is manned by soldiers. But it's not completely fool-proof, as occasionally when the wind blows the wrong way, technology can fail in Ancelstierre, especially near the Wall.

I really like this concept, as in contrast to Gaia in Final Fantasy IX, here technology and magic are opposing forces, with Free Magic being chaotic and unpredictable, while technology (and technically Charter Magic) try to bring order and stability.

I also appreciate how the Abhorsen's House is situated (in the middle of a river), as water is a repellent force for the Dead. The sequel books also let us explore the Clayr's Glacier, which is another unique setting for a people to make a settlement in.

All in all the Old Kingdom is great to explore and delve into, as each of its areas are built to fit the magic system and history, and Garth Nix does add layers with newer books.

4. Edgeworld (The Edge Chronicles)



This was definitely the world that inspired me most for my Azaria books. There are three main trilogies in this series, where the actions of one character leads to consequences that are seen in the next. This is something at the heart of my series, and will become more apparent with the next book.

The Edge is a huge floating landmass, mostly covered in the Deepwoods forest, but its most unique feature are the floating rocks. In the first age, these grow in the Stone Gardens. Smaller rocks can be used in airships to allow for flight, but a natural phenomenon caused a giant one to be created. Upon this, the city of Sanctaphrax was built, and was the seat of knowledge, with particular devotion to meterology. The rock is tethered to the ground by a giant chain.

Beneath the floating city lies Undertown, a much more industrialized settlement. While Santaphrax is full of academics and scholers, Undertown is ruled by merchants, and thus there is much more inequality. The anchor that keeps Sanctaphrax grounded also lies here.

The beauty of this series, however, is that the world changes between trilogies. The first Sanctaphrax proved a giant climatalogical threat that could end all life on Edge, and so had to be evacuated and cut loose. A new giant stone was created, but thanks to something called stone-sickness, it could no longer float and had to be suspended by wooden pillars. These pillars were made by slave-labour in Undertown, as the merchants had been overthrown and replaced by more corrupt leaders.

I love how each part of Edgeworld feeds into the other, and how change in one area can drastically impact another. Considering this was written in 1998, the parallels to climate change are stark, and worth heeding.

5. The Four Nations (Avatar: The Last Airbender)


This is perhaps the most culturally diverse world of the ones I've listed, being the Eastern equivalent of the Euro-centric Dragon Age. While the parallels are not completely one to one, the research that went into this clearly shows and provides a really refreshing worldview.

The world of Avatar has four nations based on the four elements- the Fire Nation (with strong imperial Japan influences), the Earth Kingdom (based off expansive Chinese settlements), the Air Nomads (based off Tibetian monks), and the Water Tribes (based off Inuit/ Alaskan culture). The nations are supposed to live in harmony, but the imperialism of the Fire Nation has caused war for over 100 years. The Air Nomads were wiped out, the Southern Water Tribe has had all its fighters and water-benders decimated, with only the Earth Kingdom able to provide much resistance (and that's with the King beind unaware there's a war going on at all).

The Avatar (based off a Hindu concept of gods reincarnating into mortal form to address times of strife) is the person meant to bring balance to the world, and in this case it's the last surviving Air Nomad, a boy named Aang. As he journeys to master the four elements and bring down the tyrannical Fire Lord, we get to see the depth of the cultures. None of the nations are monoliths- there are Fire Sages who are on the Avatar's side, the Kyoshi warriors who live independently on their own island, water-benders who live in swamps...there's a great amout of diversity and it really does make the world feel real.

My favourite location is probably the Northern Water Tribe city. It's a canal city built on ice between a glacier, and the form fits function so well.


Northern Water Tribe

Conclusion

So those are my top five fantasy locations, all of which have definitely inspired the creation of my own world, Azaria. What are your favourite fantasy locations, and what makes them memorable to you? I'd love to know!

Why There Isn't Much Diversity In My Books (so far)...and How I'm Going To Change

 

In the last few decades, the issue about diversity in fiction has become more and more prominent. What's diversity, you ask? Well (and this isn't a formal definition), it's about including a broader variety of characters in stories, highlighting the trend that characters tend to be of the dominant or 'default' class (typically white straight male), even in non real-world settings. It also includes the fact that most creators who aren't white or male get overlooked in big projects, which perpetuates the above 'defaults' and doesn't give a true voice to these other groups.

Having characters of colour, characters on the LGBT+ spectrum or even just more women in prominent roles is more reflective of populations in the real world and can shed light onto stories or perspectives which wouldn't otherwise be given a voice. I for one have definitely become tired of the common tropes in fiction and repetition of the same ideas, and this could be a way to open up a world of intriguing possibility.

Alas, even as an author of colour myself, I have a confession to make. It's only been recently that I've noticed in my own work, I've fallen into the 'default' trap. My first trilogy, the Chronicles of Azaria: The Goddess Saga, features predominantly white characters, with very little in the way of other cultures or representation. While I have better representation planned for future books, it's still something that has come to bother me.

Now you could argue why should this matter- the setting is in a made up fantasy world, so the race of the characters should be irrelevant. The story is also much more character focused, so it's difficult to include other diverse elements that are directly relevant, compared to a big expansive epic. And arguably it's worse to shove in 'forced diversity' for the sake of it, rather than making it an organic part of the story.

The character cards for the upcoming books won't look quite so homogenous!

While there is some truth to these arguments, they are not excuses, and being made aware of diversity issues is still important. Not only does it allow other minorities to feel seen and represented (though of course in fantasy settings this isn't directly comparable), it also refreshes the tired old tropes that many, especially me, have become so bored with. With this in mind, I have revamped other settings in my Azaria world, which will play a larger role in the upcoming stories for the series.

The new regions, Bayaan and Nydis, will feature prominently in future Azaria books, and is based off North India/ Nepal

Thus the main reason for writing this post is firstly, to raise awareness, but secondly, to be aware of biases you may not even know you have, even as someone from a minority background. Even though I'm not white, my main characters still defaulted to this, so anyone can perpetuate the trend without realising it. It's only by taking a step back and thinking 'why is this character this way' can you think more broadly and ambitiously. Nonetheless, I am also not for the trend of forcing in diversity which makes it come off as a 'checklist of things to include' and not be woven into the story properly. I've read a few books like this, which only include superficial Western interpretations, and it really does come off as lazy.

Then comes the issue of 'who should be writing this'? There are many who tout that only others of a certain race or indigenous group should be writing about themselves, but I think this needs a more nuanced argument. While we don't want to go down the old colonialism route of 'those Orientals' and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, it's also too restrictive to ban all writers with an interest in other cultures from doing so. The key here is research, talking to and getting viewpoints from people in said culture, and then writing about it sensitively and respectfully.


The main cast of the series features Sokka and Katara (based off Inuit culture) and Aang (based off Tibetan monks)

A great example of this I think is the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series. The world is based off Eastern cultures, and so while it's not a direct representation and there is some mixing of elements, each nation or group are depicted well and respectfully, despite being entirely written by two white men. Each culture also isn't conglomerated together into 'The East'. The story and world building and characters, while not perfect, are masterfully done, and it does show that a lot of thought and research went into even seemingly minor details.

On the other hand, the creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino could have done more to promote creators of the backgrounds within their stories, as there is a bias in the industry. Who's to say that a creator who was a part of the depicted cultures was overlooked for a similar story?

Similar could be said for Disney's Moana- while the depiction of the culture was cetainly a lot more respectful than previous films such as Pocahontas, and there was direct consultation of the ethnic group involved, it still wasn't written by indigenous creators. To some this may seem overly nitpicky, where to others this is a key to the heart of the diversity issues that need to be recognised and addressed.

It's therefore quite difficult to acknowledge internal biases that have built up over time, let alone address them, but having seen the problem in my work, it has really opened my eyes of the simple steps that can be taken to start to improve representation in my own fiction.

So, to sum up:

1. Consider including a wider range of people as characters from different racial groups or other backgrounds, even if not using a real-world setting

2. If you are not a member of said group, talk to people who are and do further research to avoid harmful stereotypes. Also ask what kind of story you are wanting to tell, and if you are simply using the other culture as 'set dressing'.

3. Don't shoe-horn diversity in to get 'brownie points', make it an integral part of the story and its development, which is why thinking about it early is key


I'm looking forward to implement these changes in my future books, and I hope you'll enjoy what it creates!