Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Editing Skin for Createspace

Skin has taken longer to edit than any of the books I've been preparing for publishing through Createspace, in part because it's the longest book I've written to date - approximately 110,000 words.  Apart from being physically longer, it's also much more complex than the other books I've prepared so far.

I have to say, it's an education seeing the book in paperback form - I've seen and read Skin in print previously, printed off locally, and yet I still found a relatively small number of typos that should have screamed at me in print.  It seems that holding it as a paperback lets you read it more naturally.  Of course, every read through is likely to sweep up errors that have slipped through the net previously.  It's the old adage that is true - you read what you thought you wrote, at least the first six or so times.  It's been a while since I've read this book and I have to say I was wondering how the main characters were going to get themselves out of certain problems, so I think that helped me view the formatting and spelling more objectively.

To be honest, the biggest area for changes was in punctuation: like Oscar Wilde I found myself deliberating over commas in the main.  Some that were in place, I've removed; others I've added.  Probably the next time I run through the book I'll reverse my choices, at least some of them.  However I have to say that in the main the changes I've made have been superficial and shouldn't have affected anyone's understanding or enjoyment of the book.  I did address a couple of plot issues, though.  One I'd been advised about by a reader some time ago, where Rory managed to shed some bindings without explanation - fair cop, a few word changes and all sorted now.  The other was regarding a thug I left in play when writing the book, as a potential hook for some extra mayhem that I didn't ultimately need.  I've left his plot line much better defined, again in a few keystrokes.

The biggest issue, though, has to be the cover image.  When I created the proof copy a month and a half ago I played around with the cover creator software that Createspace provide for free.  I'd already created the images for The Last Simple, the Journeymen and Digital Life Form that you can see at the top of this blog. I plumped for an image of a cockpit instrument panel as a holding image and one I have found to be pretty unpopular.

My rationale for choosing this, from a very limited library, was that an aircraft, the venerable Chinook, features quite large in the story.  Admittedly it doesn't do very well, but it and Rory's day job as a Chinook technician supporting Special Forces on the eve of the shock and awe phase of the second Gulf War is pretty pivotal.

However it got a poor reception, so I had to go back to basics.  What is a cover for?  Well, hopefully it will attract a reader to look at the blurb and in the process convey something about the book.  It could be argued that the title should do some of that, too.  So I got to wondering how I put across the concept behind Skin in a cover.  Here's what I worked out, and I'm going to be a bit circumspect in case any of you are actually planning on reading Skin sometime soon!

Starting with the title, I have to accept that 'Skin' doesn't convey a whole amount of information about the book content.  It won't spoil the book if I mention that the activities of Rory Callum, the lead character who starts the story supporting an ill fated operation behind enemy lines and then fast forwards to sometime in the near future as an industrial spy, hinges on the development of artificial skin.  But this isn't what the story is about, it's just a significant thread that is wound around the plot.

In many ways, revenge is a significant part of the story.  Now try conveying that in a title or a cover image.  Looking at the most popular choices for covers it's clear that some genres have a pattern to use - pop a red high heeled shoe against a white background and you've got a rom-com, chick-lit book.  A dark, virtually black background with a pale, dark haired teenage girl and a slightly older and taller young man missing his shirt indicates a vampire story.  Technological, futuristic and violent thriller stories may have a genre image style, but I'm struggling to find it.

Of course the original eBook cover you can see at the top of this page was a simplistic representation of a Chinook at sunset, somewhere in a desert in the Middle East.  So, are we back to the Chinook again?  Well, without spoiling the plot too much, the events in the Gulf are pivotal through the story: it starts in Kuwait and revisits the region progressively throughout the book.  The book also visits north Wales, the north of England and London.  It takes in people ranging from Rory, an ordinary guy doing a slightly dodgy job all the way up to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, taking in a number of elevated, violent and influential people along the way.  Looking at the alternatives, sticking with the Chinook seems like a reasonable way to approach this cover.

Here's one possible cover, using an image I gleaned off the net.  I've probably got similar images upstairs in my attic from my days working on the Chinooks, and I may end up digging one of them out yet.

It's not necessarily the final cover, but at least it conveys the message that this isn't a book about dermal properties.  The military theme of the book is clear; the sheer impact of the Chinook alone should get browsers with an interest in the genre looking.  Hopefully it won't detract chick-lit and teenage vampire readers from their never ending, and generally well supported, search for new material.  With luck, it will attract those with an interest in the genre is sits in.  Perhaps one of them could explain what that genre is.

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Digital Life Form is available on in paperback for $8 (or for £5 plus P&P in the UK for UK readers - contact me on for details)

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