Tag Archives: hugh howey

Using Canva to Design Your Own Book Covers

Some time ago, Hugh Howey wrote about canva.com, a tool authors could use to create book covers for their Kindle and other e-book releases. (The site offers plenty of templates for other online uses, as well.)

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you already know: cover art is the big hold-up on pretty much all of my e-books (not to mention the print versions). And if you’ve tried creating a cover on your own, you know the complications go far beyond coming up with an image to represent your story – there’s also sizing, resolution, thumbnails and more to consider.

Canva eliminates about 95% of these worries. Work with their premade templates for font placement and selection ideas, drop in your cover art (easily created with Pixlr and a few copyright-free art searches) and click “download.” You’ll be stunned at what you can create. For example. see the comparisons below: the covers I originally posted for PIC, Mousewings and POST, compared to their Canva-created replacements. (Click on each thumbnail for a full image; if you want to make a purchase, use the links on the right-hand side of the blog)

Evidenced by the above, even the least graphically gifted among us can create something worth showing of with Canva. Think you’ll give it a try? Leave a link to your designs in the comments!

Versatile Blogger Awards (Part 1: Blog Recommendations)

IMG_20131017_213750On Saturday, I found out that Christina Zarrella had awarded me a Versatile Blogger Award! Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyways), I’m so flattered that she thought of me when selecting her nominees! Christina’s blog, Turbulence in the Veins, talks about her journey from homeless teen to Yale grad, offering some incredible insight into the struggles she faced and overcame on the way and talking about issues faced by those in similar situations to hers. To be honored by such a blogger was immensely flattering, and I hope you’ll all check out her writing. She has a memoir, of the same title, on the way. Thank you so much, Christina, for your kind words about I Wrote This:

Rachel Lynn Brody’s blog is always informative – whether on tech/blogging/writing topics and tips: http://rlbrody.com

Part one of winning a Versatile Blogger award is nominating another 15 blogs – so here are my nominations (in no particular order)!

  1. Sare Liz Gordy (Inspiration, One Day At A Time) www.sareliz.com – Sare and I have known each other for years; her blog, which she updates with regularity, is always a window into her attempts to view her world with clarity and self-knowledge. Whether she’s posting about migraines, Feng Shui or finding enlightenment, her blogs are always a focused reflection of the world around her.
  2. Tony Noland (Landless) http://www.tonynoland.com/ – A Twitter acquaintance who I’ve known for a while now, Tony’s blog is a combination of his self-publishing exploits, flash fiction and the occasional DIY project. His sense of humor is always evident in his takes on everyday life.
  3. Jamie Broadnax (Black Girl Nerds) http://blackgirlnerds.com/ – Jamie and I have been chatting on Twitter for some time now, and her blog is a phenomenal resource for all things nerdy. She runs a weekly podcast of the same name, and both outlets dig into comics, culture and more. Through Black Girl Nerds, she’s built a phenomenal community that’s well worth checking out.
  4. C.D. Reimer http://www.cdreimer.com/ – This is actually a combination of three blogs, where C.D. posts about writing, Silicon Valley and poetry. His writing blog is incredibly informative and often offers helpful insights into the process of self-publishing.
  5. Johann Thorsson (On Books & Writing) http://jthorsson.com/blog/ – Icelandic author Johann Thorsson writes short stories and novels (mostly in English). His blog is a collection of book reviews, photographs and excerpts from his essays for megasite Book Riot. As an added bonus, those who follow him on Twitter often get to see, via photo, how jealous we should all be that we don’t live in Iceland.
  6. JC Rosen (Girl Meets Words) http://jessrosen.wordpress.com/ – Jess runs a few different book- and writing-related discussions on Twitter. She’s always supportive of writers and willing to chat about their work, and always able to give an encouraging word. Her blog includes flash fiction on diverse topics and write-ups of the different things she’s reading.
  7. Emily Suess (Suess’ Pieces) http://emilysuess.wordpress.com/ – One of my first Twitter acquaintances, Emily also runs a copywriting business – and when I met her, had taken on the beheamouth of online vanity publishing services to try and help new writers avoid unethical treatment. Seuss’ Pieces has been retired and archived to this URL, but still contains plenty of advice for beginning writers.
  8. Melanie Ardentdelirium (Lovely Like Beestings) http://lovelylikebeestings.wordpress.com – Mels is a Twitter acquaintance whose blog tackles issues of both mental health and Roller Derby. Her topics cover everything from broken bones to sick cats, all with a frank edge that gives you a real taste of her personality.
  9. Jo Clifford (Teatro do Mundo) http://www.teatrodomundo.com/  – Jo, my former MFA supervisor, is also a well-regarded, talented and prolific playwright in Scotland. Her blog is both a resource for understanding what it means to be a playwright in today’s world as well as a rich collection of ruminations on personal experience.
  10. Sarah Hartley (StoryGirlSarah.com) http://storygirlsarah.com/ – Sarah is a New York fashionista in the truest sense of the word, with her signature mod/vintage look stamped across her fashion and design work. (Did I mention she’s responsible for the cover of Hot Mess?) Follow her blog and on Instagram to get the full impact of her creative and clear-headed style.
  11. E.M. Thurmond (Count My Stars) http://countmystars.wordpress.com/ – While it hasn’t been updated in some time, E.M. Thurmond’s blog tells the story of an aspiring TV writer in Hollywood. From interviews with women writers to accounts of her own experiences developing her career, it’s a place where readers can find insight in the crazy maze of trying to make it as a screenwriter while staying true to your goals and ideals.
  12. Vossbrink and Kukurovaca (Hairy Beast) http://hairybeast.net/ – These two twitter acquaintances are quick-witted on Twitter, and the depth of analysis on this blog dealing with photography and culture will change the way you look at pictures. Well worth checking it out, but carve out enough time to really immerse yourself in the subject matter. You won’t regret it.
  13. Debbie Vega (Moon in Gemini) http://debravega.wordpress.com/ – Another blogger I found through #MondayBlogs, Debbie covers writing and pop culture. She participates in a lot of themed blog events, like “The Great Villain Blogathon,” and offers anything from advice on how writers can improve their craft to her perspective on popular films.
  14. NYPinTA (Talking to the Moon) http://www.nypinta.com/blog/ – Film, music, theater, travel and television all get their chance in the spotlight on NYPinTA’s blog. Her clear and direct writing style lets you enjoy her experiences as if you’d been there.
  15. Hugh C. Howey http://www.hughhowey.com/ – I read Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga last year, and was blown away by his intriguing dystopian vision. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with him once or twice on Twitter, and the thing I love about his blog is how generous he is with his advice for aspiring indie authors. As someone whose self-published stories went from blog entries to Kindle novels to being picked up by a major publisher, he’s walked the road many indie writers want to follow on, and he offers a lot of insight along the way.

Honorable Mention:

Maybe it’s cheating to bring up a blog I help contribute to, but this list wouldn’t be complete without including Calming Brits & Irishmen. My friend @aboleyn started this Tumblr as a way to cheer me up after my back injury, and since then it’s gained nearly 4,000 followers and turned into a sort of Post Secret for Anglophiles. In addition to the meme-like photographs with calming sayings that we started out posting, we now answer anywhere between 3-15 “asks” a day – many anonymous – from followers dealing with upsetting issues from studying for exams to dealing with breakups, mental health issues and the deaths of family and friends — all through the medium of animated gifs of some of our favorite British and Irish personalities. Apparently the brings a smile to many peoples’ days, and if you’re looking for versatility, the topics it covers run the gamut of human experience.

There’s a second part of the Versatile Blogger Awards – sharing seven things about yourself – but as this blog is already topping 1000+ words, I’ll save that for a second part. Stay tuned tomorrow to learn more about me.

I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more. 

Reading Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga – Some Thoughts Upon Nearing Its Completion

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A while ago, Amazon announced that Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga would be opening up to Kindle Worlds; having written about that, I decided a few weeks ago to check the books out – at the urging of another indie author, Brian Meeks, who does some pretty interesting stuff with self-publishing how-tos himself.

Thanks to an e-loan from Brian, I started reading WOOL. It kicks off with the story of a dystopian world where people live in a vast underground silo; the desire to go “outside” earns those who ask for it exactly that – the problem being that outside is said to be full of radioactivity and toxins. In other words, if you want some fresh air, you’re gonna get sent to your death.

I peeled through WOOL in a handful of days. The story starts small then builds; Howey layers one discovery on top of the next, and one finds the world of the book slowly telescoping outwards. Some realizations on the part of the characters are foreshadowed a little too heavily, but Howey doesn’t wait long before making his reveals in these situations, so you feel like you’re only a step or two ahead of his characters.

At the end of WOOL, I bought SHIFT – the second book in the series – and started getting into this deeper backstory on the world I’d spent time in throughout book one. The story here starts to put together some of the pieces the first book has laid out, delving deeper into the reasoning behind how things wound up the way they are. SHIFT is in many ways a

quieter novel than WOOL, more about interpersonal relationships and plans being made by powerful people, how they affect others and how they affect the people making those decisions. There are small knots of characterization that grated me in this book, particularly early on in the novel, but by its conclusion the reader watches the strength of Howey’s female characters coming into its own once again.

By the end of SHIFT I wanted  to read DUST, but given how much more compelling the first book had been, I was hesitant to spend the money. Luckily, Howey allows his readers to loan their e-books; within a few minutes of tweeting that I wondered if anybody would loan it to me, a friend from the West Coast had pinged me on Amazon and loaned me the novel. (I could write an entire blog entry about how awesome it was to get a loaned book from 3K miles away within a matter of minutes, but that would be another blog entry.)

Now I’m about halfway through DUST and the desire not to drop spoilers means I can only give the barest of hints as to what’s going on. What impresses me about Howey’s writing is the way his setting and narrative expand in sync with one another. By book three, he has a solid cast of characters, and some of them have begun taking drastic measures to achieve their goals.

One thing that’s kept me from enjoying media in recent years is when I can’t identify with the lead female protagonists. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was an early casualty of this issue – the way the women in this show were presented strained my ability to suspend disbelief. In contrast, while the world of the silo is not precisely a progressive one, there are women with agency in positions of power – even the main character makes her own decisions and follows through on them, and generally kicks ass and takes names every time she gets confronted by roadblocks to her success. She also shows vulnerability and thoughtfulness, she pressures herself to achieve her goals. I’m enjoying reading about her immensely, and suspect her absence from much of book 2 helped make that book less engaging for me (though the two female protagonists Howey introduces in book 2 are also engging. Regardless, I’m enjoying the female protagonist in this story immensely. She’s skilled, determined, exhibits agency at every turn, and bends the world around her to her will. She doesn’t give up. She fights hard for what she believes in. She loses people and things she cares about during the course of the story, has her entire world shattered, and is now in the stages of trying to rebuild it.

I haven’t had a chance to review the three books on Goodreads – one problem with writing reviews for multiple books is that the specifics of what happens where, for me, begins to blend together – but for readers looking for good dystopian

science fiction, I would recommend the Silo Saga for its intricate mythos and carefully-built reality. The books are human and compelling. Howey has good command of how to put together an emotionally engaging, complex tale on a scale that moves from the personal to the epic. While I’m still waiting to see how the third book ends and hoping it lives up to my expectations, regardless, Howey’s done a bang-up job of putting together a trilogy with staying power. When one compares The Silo Saga to some of the other self-published work out there, it seems like this might be a popular sci-fi classic in the making. Here’s hoping.

The Silo stories bring up some fascinating questions about humanity and the lengths to which a few driven men can take a society that considers its own survival to be vital. It also speaks to the importance of questioning authority and reasoning things out. In some ways, it’s a book that shows the failings of a cargo culture and of the loss of manufacturing knowledge going on in America today. Conformity and groupthink come into play; so do questions about traditional societies mapped onto radical tactics for survival. Knowledge and power are sharply equated. Rebelliousness, though not rewarded, and individualism in the face of regimented societal expectations is more of a burden than a help – until such a point where the individual breaks through an invisible barrier and is given Power from an external source.

With another hour or so of reading before I come to the conclusion of the Silo Saga canon, I wanted to jot some of these down. Have you read the Silo Saga? What’s you’re take on the novels, both as sources of entertainment and as wider political commentary? While I’ve tried to keep this entry spoiler-free, please feel free to get into a spoiler-riffic discussion in the comments.

If you haven’t yet read Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga, the first book is available at the NYPL (and I would assume some other libraries, since it’s carried by Simon and Schuster now, or else do what I did – ask for the loan of the first book from someone else, then I’m happy to let others borrow my sharable Kindle e-copy of book two before you find your way to reading book three.

Enjoy the ride. And (mini spoiler) don’t breathe the argon gas.

Fanfic, Hugh Howey, the Silo Saga & Amazon Worlds

Amazon announced Kindle worlds a few weeks ago, and I took some time to talk about why I felt like the salivating hordes might want to hold their breaths when it came to the question of, “How long till Harry Potter?” Alloy, I pointed out, has always been a media packaging company; aligning with Amazon via Kindle Worlds is very much inside their wheelhouse. If Alloy was a trailblazer towards legitimizing fanfiction, it was because the company had positioned itself uniquely with successful series and television transfers like The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars.

silo saga

On Monday, Amazon announced that the newest Kindle World open for play was Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga. Who’s Hugh Howey, you ask?

Hugh Howey wrote WOOL, a self-publishing phenomenon. And now, Hugh Howey is the first major independent self-published author I’ve heard of whose work is being served up by Kindle Worlds.

What does that mean? Howey will get a cut of every piece of Silo Saga fanfiction that sells via the program. Howey will likely never have to work again in his life. (Not that he won’t – a counter on the sidebar of his blog lets readers know what’s coming next, and how far off it is.)

With their announcement (which took place on Monday, via email), Amazon blew a whole new field of income open for those one-in-a-million writers who strike it big in new genre fiction. They also widened the playing field yet again: shifting fanfic, e-publishing and traditional media closer to a truly collaborative model.

An issue I’ve had with entertainment technology in the last few years, but never really verbalized outside of long bull sessions with friends, has been its shift towards top-down creation of media and the machines we use to make it. From hardware to content, tablets to televisions, the evolution of leisure and technology have edged away from the low-barrier Super 8 and VHS camcorders of the 80s and 90s and towards more sophisticated digital editing and filming technology – with far higher financial bars to entry (up until the relatively recent prosumer-level cameras available on some of today’s handheld phones). Similarly, while a laptop’s primary function is as a mobile data entry station, tablets are designed for the intake and consumption of media: at least when it comes to writing something longer than a grocery list, would you rather type on an iPad or the $100 keyboard peripheral you bought to go with it? While peripherals adapt the workspace to be more creator-friendly, they allow technology’s default to be one of consumer, rather than creator.

Since its inception, publishing has been a top-down business whose profitability has been in the consumption of media, not in its creation. (In fact, take a look at the number of public-domain works available as self-published books to get an idea of how necessary a living creator is to the process of publishing novels. It’s much easier to make money off writers after we – then our copyrights – are dead.)

The default mode of interaction in most media has been set – for a long time – to consumption.

On the other hand, Western civilization has a terrific history of derivative artistic creations. An overwhelming amount of paint has gone into creating fan art for the Bible, for example, and the plays of Shakespeare can be seen as fannishly adapted by every theater company that re-stages them.

By choosing to take a self-published writer and open his sandbox – and the earning potential of his work – to other players, Amazon (who, yes, is definitely an invested player in the equation) is levering “their” phenomenon to a playing field equal to Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries, not to mention sci-fi’s own more traditional-media representative Neal Stephenson. While E.L. James and the Hollywood adaptation of “50 Shades” stretch self-publishing in one direction, Kindle Worlds – and Howey’s inclusion in it, alongside the other creators of the featured worlds – push it in another.

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Which widens the playing field for everyone else, and opens a new arena: fans who don’t just read, but contribute. Who become collaborators in the worlds they love.

That’s a level of involvement that reaches a step further than the world that came about when the first writers of Kirk/Spock sat in their basements with their typewriters and mimeographs of the 70s, and it means that this landmark announcement from Amazon is one that self-publishing writers should take notice of.

 

Like Amazon, I have a foot in the game. Check out my Amazon Author page for information on my plays and short stories.

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Edit: I shared this blog with Howey this morning (8/1/2013) and he had this comment:

 

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