Three self-publishing tips: things to avoid when choosing your title

As many “how to” bloggers and writers have stressed, choosing your book’s cover and its title can seriously help or hinder your sales when you come to the marketing and publicity for your book. But even when you have the perfect cover and you think you have found a pithy, attention-grabbing title that promises a really good read in your chosen genre and style, it pays to do a bit of thinking and research before making your final decision. There are some pitfalls to avoid.

Here are three things you can learn from problems I’ve had:

  1. Try to include your key word(s) in the title rather than only in the sub-title. My first book is a non-fiction one about horses in film and on TV. My title: “Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.” Yes, search engines will pick up “horse” and “film” even though they are in the sub-title. But the mighty Amazon machine which sends those helpful alerts along the lines of “you might also like” picks sometimes picks a whole set of lighting products….
  2.  Avoid any word that is spelled differently in American English from how it is in UK English. [I was going to write “spelt differently” – but apparently that’s a UK English option – it must be “spelled” in American English. See what I mean?] My third book is called “Horse and Pony Colours: which would you choose?” You notice I’d learnt from mistake number 1 above: my keywords are in the title not the sub-title. And I’d followed a suggestion I’d read that non-fiction titles should show the reader what it is that your book offers them. But “colour” is of course spelled “color” in American English. The search engines still find the book from either side of the Atlantic – but they flag up “Did you mean Horse and Pony Colors?” So now there could be a tiny suggestion at the back of the reader’s mind: can’t this author even spell?
  3. Do your research first – how many already published books have the same or a similar title? You don’t have to avoid duplicating an existing title if there’s only one other book with the same title or a very similar one. I edited some stories recently: “Night Mission: 7 WWII era stories” by Clive Lodge. The “Night Mission” bit came from one of the strongest stories. I nearly called it “The Tunnel” after one of the other stories and I’d chosen some great cover pictures of mysterious tunnels. But the cover then seemed to hint at science fiction rather than second world war adventures. “Night Mission” – with a Spitfire in the evening cloud on the cover – fitted much better. A quick search only threw up one other “Night Mission” – and since that one was about one night stands and sported an obviously sexy cover I doubted there would be too much confusion. But with “Lights! Camera! Gallop!” I discovered after I published that there are very many books beginning “Lights! Camera!” and at the moment they mostly seem to come up before mine on search pages.

So, take choosing your title seriously – avoid my mistakes – and good luck!

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Horses – and mules – in World War 1

Have you seen War Horse? Very moving. For more facts about horses – and mules – in the First World War  “The Equine Army” episode in the BBC series “World War 1 at Home” is great.

Just how many horses and mules were involved? The answer might amaze you: nearly a million by the end of the war.

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In fact, the army had gone a long way towards mechanization by the outbreak of the war – it was a matter of the sheer scale of the supplies and light artillery which needed to be hauled about Europe that led to the use of so many horses. There were some 25,000 horses in the army to begin with in 1914 but by the end of the first year of the war there were half a million. How did the army manage this? Because there simply weren’t enough horses, even on farms, in Britain, they started importing wild mustangs from the USA and then mules. At one point, some one thousand horses and mules a week. They then had to tame them very quickly – generally using the old, Western methods of “breaking in” by roping and riding the horse to point of exhaustion. That wasn’t what the trainers wanted to do – it was a matter of the urgency of war.

Mules, according to “The Equine Army” programme, were a bit of a puzzle to the army at first. Treating them as horses didn’t work – mules of course are very independently minded. Some say stubborn. And there are some great clips that illustrate this: there’s one of a number of soldiers in a tug of war (and not winning) with one mule. And another of some soldiers trying to shoe a mule: the mule is tied up, it’s boxed in by wooden bars, its leg is tied to a post by a rope – and still it’s kicking out wildly while the farrier approaches with the hot shoe. Unlike a horse, a mule, as you can clearly see in this clip, can kick in all directions, not just backwards. Fortunately, the army eventually got used to mules, finding them more robust in the wartime environment of mud, cold, mud, bad weather, mud and heavy loads. Both horses and mules certainly played a big part in winning the war, but at a great cost.

War Horse, the movie, book or play, had some heart breaking moments but it does have [spoiler alert] a happy ending. Not so for the 484,000 horses and mules which died or were killed. And not so for the 900,000 or so which were unable to return to Britain.

Try catch up TV or hope for a DVD release to see World War 1 at Home: The Equine Army.

To read about your favourite film or TV horse, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.

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Marketing tip for Indie / self-published authors

Have you, like me, been voraciously reading all the advice for self-published authors on how to actually sell your books? My problem is that my books (about horses and film) present a bit of a cross-genre quandary and so are a bit more difficult to market. I’ve been pursuing all the advice about building up social media (shame I didn’t start before publishing…) and so on and I’ve advertised in the horse media and in the film media. I even took out an ad in the UK Sunday paper The Observer but that was definitely not a good return for the cost in my case despite its millions of readers.

A lot of the advice around is along the lines of “go with giveaways”. Amazon’s Kindle Select programme allows you to do just that with the ebook version of your book and you can do it with paperbacks through Goodreads. I’ve done both but got very little back in terms of reviews (though they can lift your book up a little in the ratings and you can make useful connections on Goodreads).   

Anyhow, the latest thing I’ve tried is Story Cartel – and so far, it’s looking good. Story Cartel offers readers free books in return for an honest review.  Story Cartel comment that they are “a home to any kind of book you could imagine, from nail-biting thrillers to tender romance novels, serious literary fiction to self-help non-fiction”. It does cost ($30 – or under £18 at current exchange rate).

It’s important to point out that Story Cartel isn’t about buying reviews. It isn’t about manipulating people into giving your book five-star reviews. But remember, even low star reviews can help your ratings on amazon (and if all your reviews are 5 star, conspiracy theorists might think they’re all written by your relatives…).

Anyway, I’m part-way though the 3 weeks my book is on free offer for and so far I have garnered more reviews than I did with Goodreads and for half the cost. So right now, if you too need more reviews, I’m recommending giving Story Cartel a go. (Watch this space to see if it gets better by the end of my 3 weeks).

You can check out my book on Story Cartel – and find out more about the what Story Cartel has to offer both readers and writers here: http://storycartel.com/books/horse-and-pony-colours-which-one-would-you-choose

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Run for Glory – stunning film about a stunning racehorse

If you like horses, racing or classical music – or all three – do check out Run for Glory – Ode to a horse.

It’s a fictional account of a race horse from foaling to a tremendous win.  Director Ahmed Jamalat was inspired by fabulous Derby winner (1994) Erhaab. Erhaab’s win is said by the experts to have been a particularly exhilarating win. I missed that one – are there any readers out there who saw it and can confirm this (or otherwise)?

The film shows a mix of ups and downs in the life of the horse and his owners. I think the film’s particular success comes through his use of music to enhance the audience’s emotions. It’s set to two movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Herbert von Karajan).

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Publicity pictures copyright Melville Arts

Be warned though. The film runs for only 35 minutes and it’s certainly not a Disney style film. And at £15 (at the time of writing) the DVD is not cheap. If it’s your sort of film it’s definitely worth it though. If in doubt, as ever you can check out the trailer on YouTube. Better still, the film has its own website at:  http://lifeofahorse.com/

(for more horses in more films, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film (Kindle or paperback)

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Horse and Pony Colours: Which one would you choose? (Colourful Christmas present?)

“A good horse is never a bad color!” I absolutely agree. But, just supposing you could choose the perfect colour for your horse – or the horse or pony of your dreams, which colour would it be?

When I had the idea for my third book, I knew of course that horses come in many colours and many combinations of colours – but I didn’t even guess that there are over fifty recognised horse colours. Yes fifty! Amazingly, the specialist website The Horse Colors Site  identifies over fifty different horse colours  – and that’s not counting the standard bay colour. They’re all listed at: http://www.horsecolor.com/

My own favourite – and I’m guessing the favourite of a good few of you out there – is Palomino. I could be influenced by childhood memories of Trigger and Mr Ed and that holiday job I had on a Palomino stud farm.

But, but, but…. I like the pure black ones, the dappled greys and the spotted ones too. and the cremellos and the buckskins and, and…

Anyhow, check out Horse and Pony Colours: Which one would you choose? Out early December 2013 in paperback or kindle, with colour photos. There a little bit of science too and a link to a website where you can enter the colour of the sire and dam to get a prediction of what colours the foal might be.    

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http://www.lesleylodge.co.uk

 

Self-publishing – and Horse colours (tips please!)

Writing coming off hold! I’ve been a little quiet on the twitter/blog front recently. What happened was that the combination of hungry horse and awful winter weather (not to mention very long winter) here in Bedfordshire (UK) has meant that the grassy green field turned into a sludge brown field. So I’ve sent the hairy cob away to an equestrian centre in the next county over, for some expert schooling and to rest the field. Meanwhile, I’ve been picking up horse droppings, re-seeding the field and laying down fertiliser. Result: a few green shoots and a glimmer of hope for more.

So now, back to focus on the writing. I’ve now read no fewer than five of those books about how to succeed with self-publishing and marketing your e-book. Some of the main lessons in all these books (now they tell me…) are about things you should do BEFORE publication so I’ll be trying these out. One piece of advice many of these books give is about self-publishing on Kindle and then being able to give away free copies on selected days. Now neither of my e-books (“Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film” and the short story book “Because it is Written”) are in my control so I haven’t been able to do the give-away thing. But I’m determined to publish the new one myself through Kindle Direct Publishing.     

So, I’m starting the new book now. The plan is to aim it at a younger audience than Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film and I’ll give it a more playful focus. There will be some horse film stars in it and lots of pictures. It’s going to be about the huge variety of colours horses can have, and the different names for them (sometimes the same colours have different names in the UK and USA). The colour of a horse is often carefully considered in film-making and there’s been a whole raft of theories about the symbolism of a horse’s colour. Just as a director might have definite views about whether to choose a dark haired actress such as Angelina Jolie or a blonde like Reese Witherspoon, he or she would also decide carefully between a black stallion, which might hint at, say, power, mystery, secrecy or even death, or a white one, which would traditionally suggest innocence, light, sun, vitality or resurrection.

Such interpretations of colouring are not set in stone and are sometimes reversed, as for example a pale horse might symbolise death. The star horse in the various Black Beauty films, being all based on the book of the same name, had of course to be black in colour but his character was also very carefully and very strongly shown to be good: brave, faithful and patient. Then there is my own favourite colour: the Palomino. I’m thinking Roy Rogers’ Trigger or the legendary talking Mr Ed.

So, I’d very much value your input as I start this project:

Have you a favourite horse colour?

Have you an anecdote about horse colours?

And – have you any hints on marketing self-published books or on the Kindle Direct Publishing please? 

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Ray Harryhausen: creator of magical, animated horses

Sad news that Ray Harryhausen, visual effects master and creator of fabled animated horses Pegasus and Eohippus has passed away aged 92. These horses were in creaky old films admittedly – Clash of the Titans (1981) and the even older and creakier  Valley of Gwangi (1969) (in the fortunately very genre of cowboys vs dinosaurs – but the prehistoric horse Eohippus stole the show). They were however magical (especially but not only in wine-fuelled all-nighter showings somewhere like the old Electric cinema, in London’s Notting Hill, sometime, let’s say, Back in the Day. Heyho)

Much of this blog is based on Chapter 8 of Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.

Ray Harryhausen worked extensively with stop-motion animation. He was called, with justification, ‘the world’s greatest stop-motion animator’. During a thirty-year career, he did much of the writing, directing, lighting, modelling and animating in his films single-handedly, creating some of the most remarkable moments in stop-motion animation. Much of his work focused on mythical beings or incredible monsters, and two of his greatest creations were horses: Pegasus and Eohippus.

Harryhausen used an advanced form of stop-motion animation (think Chicken Run or Wallace and Gromit to know what stop-motion looks like) which he himself had developed, because he wanted to integrate his model creatures into real settings rather than having to keep on building tiny and elaborate sets (his films were never given anything near a huge budget). When the whole film was later developed and projected on-screen, the horse or monster would appear to be its full intended size yet moving about inside real-life settings and interacting with human actors.

Anyhow, Harryhausen used stop-motion to bring the legendary flying horse Pegasus to the screen in his 1981 film Clash of the Titans, starring Laurence Olivier. Based on Greek mythology, this is a film about how the gods manipulate the lives of mortals, focusing on the courage of one mortal, Perseus, in the face of such manipulation. It has quite a complex plot in which, essentially, one goddess supports Calibos, a deformed outcast cursed by Zeus for hunting to death his winged horses, while other immortals help the film’s hero, Perseus.

In the film, Perseus finds Pegasus, the one remaining flying horse, when the latter comes by night to drink at the Wells of the Moon. In a magical sequence, we first see Pegasus flying through the night sky to land on the ground bathed in moonlight. Perseus lassoes Pegasus, who resists vigorously, but Perseus leaps on to his back; his riding skills have been hinted at earlier in the film, in a scene where he appears as a young boy cantering along a beach on a horse – with neither reins nor saddle. Pegasus at first reacts to Perseus riding him by bucking and rearing in the sky, like some wild rodeo horse. Eventually, though, he is tamed by Perseus giving him water to drink. Perseus flies off on Pegasus into the night – a beautiful scene, shot in silhouette.

Later in the film, the evil Calibos captures Pegasus at the Wells of the Moon by throwing a large net over him. That scene ends horribly, as Calibos’s henchmen beat at Pegasus through the net with huge clubs. The audience is left to presume that he dies an agonising death. But at the film’s climax, just as a giant sea monster is about to grab the heroine and sacrifice her, Pegasus flies in to help Perseus save her. Then, job done, Pegasus poses on a rock in the sea, rears up as if to say farewell, then flies off, up into the sky.

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Throughout the film, Harryhausen uses three main types of shot in the scenes with Pegasus. Close shots tend to focus on his huge white feathered wings and flowing white mane. Close-ups of his head are clearly those of a real white horse. More distant shots showing the whole of Pegasus, especially when he is flying, use a stop-motion model of the horse. Throughout the film, Pegasus flies and canters gracefully with only a hint of jerkiness. In the context of such a powerful and mythical storyline, that slight element of unreality in Pegasus’s gait caused by the stop-motion animation process actually helped to enhance the horse’s magical status, giving him a kind of dreamlike quality.

Harryhausen’s other important stop-motion horse is the Eohippus in The Valley of Gwangi. The first quarter of this film is remarkable for the presence of the Eohippus, a creature that did actually exist but over fifty million years ago and which is said to be the earliest ancestor of the horse. To judge from the fossil remains, it must have looked like a miniature horse, though it was only about the size of a small dog. It had toes rather than hooves: three toes on the front legs and four on its back legs.

In the film, the Eohippus is kidnapped from the Forbidden Valley, a haven blocked off from civilisation and one where dinosaurs have not died out. The kidnappers’ aim is to sell it to Buffalo Bill’s Circus Show for entertainment. Their plan is to have a normal sized horse carrying a tea-tray-sized platform on its back, with Eohippus trotting about on the platform. This, they reckon, will earn them a fortune in ticket sales. Before this plan can be carried out, though, superstitious local villagers decide to return the Eohippus to the Forbidden Valley, lest it bring them bad luck. The cowboys follow the villagers and find the valley. The rest of the film focuses on their disastrous encounters with the dinosaurs (also brought to life through stop animation).

When we first see the Eohippus in the film, it is in a tiny horse pen on a table top, complete with miniature stable. Harryhausen used cardboard cut-outs of the Eohippus in rehearsals with the actors, so that they would know which way to look, thus making it seem as if they could really see the creature. He filmed these scenes without the Eohippus (with its cardboard cut-out out of shot). He then filmed a stop-motion model of the Eohippus separately and merged the two films together afterwards. The Eohippus is so fascinating – a creature previously seen only as a sketch in an encyclopaedia, if at all, is brought to life on the screen – that it seems far more plausible than the rather plastic-looking dinosaurs that appear later in the movie. The Eohippus model used has short, tan-coloured hair and a sloping back, and moves rather like a small antelope, nervously stopping and starting – as any creature might do if it suddenly found itself on a table top. So the slight jerkiness caused by the stop-motion technique goes unnoticed. The visual impact is further reinforced by sound effects: the Eohippus has a high-pitched and convincing neigh.

Ray Harryhausen – great film-maker, sad loss.

http://tinyurl.com/horseinfilmstory  

Cobs – victims of neglect more than other horse breeds?

Worryingly there are more and more reports of abandoned horses as the financial crisis continues and people are unable to afford their upkeep. There have been some nasty cases of neglect in the news:

In Hertfordshire, an abandoned horse – described as looking like a “walking skeleton,” forced to eat tree bark to survive, was rescued from a field. It was a three-year-old, called Maggie, and was “underweight, with lice, mange and signs of serious neglect”. Fortunately this one, after being rescued from a flooded field and given urgent treatment, was taken to The Horse Trust in Buckinghamshire. In February, the report goes on to mention, five horses are known to have died within five miles of where Maggie was found – but there may be other cases that have not been reported.

There’s a picture at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-21775639

And yes, Maggie looks a Cob type to me.

There continue to be news stories of “fly-grazing” where horses are let loose on public land or on grass verges beside A roads or even motorways. Sometimes the horses are tethered, if the owner’s motive if simply to get grazing because they can’t afford hay or even field rent. But sometimes they are simply abandoned, just left to fend for themselves.

Even more worrying is the case of a horse that had to be rescued from a beach cliff face where it was found hanging by a rope round its neck. This one was rescued just in time before the tide would have reached and rushed to Redwings Horse Sanctuary for treatment.

Tethering a horse with a rope round its neck is something often seen in old Westerns. So too is lassoing a horse by the neck and pulling it to halt. See, for example, The 1961 film The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable or the 1952 film Wild Stallion (shown recently on TV in the UK).Yes horses’ necks are much stronger than ours – but tethering this way and leaving a horse is downright dangerous. Sadly – but unsurprisingly, in this case, despite the best efforts of the rescuers, the horse died from a collapsed windpipe. Again, you can see a picture at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21640420

And yes, this one looks like a Cob too.

Like so many things, it looks like it all comes down to money. As Jeanette Allen, chief executive of The Horse Trust is quoted by the BBC as saying “Horses like Maggie” – that’s basically cobs then – “have little commercial value and sadly this means more and more horses are being abandoned and left to fend for themselves.”

What to do? Well I suppose until the Government comes up with a Plan B to rescue the economy, all we can do is keep an eye out, report neglect and support organisations such as the Horse Trust and Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

For more on horses in film see Lights! Camera! Gallop!  http://tinyurl.com/horseinfilmstorycover alone not pdf small

Mother’s Day – and horses in film

10 March – Mother’s Day (at least, it is in the UK – think it’s in May in the US AND they get a holiday). So, what to write in blog that’s (so far) mostly about film, horses and writing? Well, how about a film that begins with about a horse and foal?

[warning: some plot spoilers but really this is a film you see for the beauty of the wild horses in the film rather than the plot]

There’s a 1999 film Running Free, directed by Sergei Bodrov and set mostly in southern Africa before and during World War One, that starts with a horse birth scene.  The film opens with Lucky, a colt, being born on board a ship carrying horses from Germany to work in the mines in Namibia. Lucky will be the lead character in the film and his story is mostly told by voice-over, but the focus is on his mother in the early part of the film. Because of the unpredictability of when horses give birth (much the same range of unpredictability as with humans when there’s no medical intervention), a number of pregnant grey mares were recruited for the scene where he is born, and the film unit simply waited on stand-by at all hours for one of them to foal. The birth finally occurred one night during the third week of filming. That’s a lot of waiting. This documentary bit of filming was then edited into the scripted narrative of the film.

During the filming, Lucky was played by a total of ten horses in all, five of them foals who play young Lucky.  The use of voice-over to tell the story helps the audience to see the horse’s point of view and this at its most graphic when the ship finally docks in Africa. The first men Lucky sees are armed with whips and they are very brutal and frightening as they force the horses to swim to shore.

Later in the film, there’s quite a lot about the mother-foal bond. Both are desolated and frightened when they are separated.  At one point, he is briefly reunited with his mother – but the mine-owner’s evil stallion Caesar, knocks down Lucky’s mother and she dies. Much later, when Lucky has grown up and grown strong, Lucky manages to avenge his mother’s death: he defeats Caesar in a fight. And he wins over the filly, Beauty, Caesar’s daughter, as his mate.

Happy Mother’s Day All.

For more horses in film, see Lights! Camera! Gallop! at: http://tinyurl.com/horseinfilmstory

Publicity tip for writers – avoid my mistake!

This week was a roller-coaster. Now that my book is (self)published in paperback I decided to give press releasing another go – when I had the Kindle / eBook version published my press releases didn’t seem to provoke any press interest. So, I sent off press releases to two local papers. I followed the advice I’d gathered from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook excellent Self-Publishing conference some months back. I gave the press release a topical “hook.” I linked the current horsemeat scandal to a snippet in my book on the story of the horse in film – as I recount in the book, Roy Rogers’ beautiful horse Trigger ended up in a number of burgers.

 

Well, there was no response at first, then I got  a short email asking for more details. Then nothing. Oh well, I thought and got on with other work. Then, one wet windy day I got a phonecall from the newspaper – a telephone interview and – “we’re sending the photographer round”. That’s now. 45 minutes to get me – and the horse – ready. The horse was covered in mud and both of us were having a bad hair day. Oh, and what to wear? Cue some frantic scrabbling around.

So my point is, once you send off a press release, be prepared for the press to react – just in case they do.

For any of you whose publicity photo might include a horse – another tip would be: test said horse with flash photography first! My horse Freddie reacted badly to the flash – she broke her headcollar and was off.   Anyway, here’s the picture the paper finally got:

Picture courtesy of Premier Newspapers

 

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http://www.lesleylodge.co.uk Lights! Camera! Gallop” The Story of the Horse in Film from only £1.53 at:

http://tinyurl.com/horseinfilmstory